When Halifax moms need human milk, they turn to Facebook

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Dietetic technician Jan Eddy handling donor milk in the Milk Room Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Jan 19, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/when-halifax-moms-need-breast-milk-they-turn-to-facebook/

When Denika Savoie’s daughter needed more breast milk than her mother could produce, Savoie knew she wouldn’t be able to count on her health care system to help her.

“We were told by the IWK Health Centre in Halifax that when a preemie baby reaches what would be 34 weeks gestation that donor milk is no longer provided,” she says in a email.

For the first month, Savoie could feed her daughter with her own milk and the help of donor milk given by the IWK.

But later, when her daughter was two months old, Savoie couldn’t supply an adequate amount of human milk to feed her. She knew from her prior interaction that the IWK would no longer be able to give her any. Looking for an alternative, a family friend suggested she ask a donor to send milk, by putting out a request to the group Human Milk 4 Human Babies on Facebook.

Human Milk 4 Human Babies is one of many human milk groups that operate mostly through social media. Any mother can join and ask for human milk or give their own human milk to mothers in need.

These groups operate on trust; donors are not screened and the milk is not tested. The donor and recipient often meet for the exchange and get to know each other. However, the donor is not liable if her milk has a disease that is transmitted to the baby.

Savoie says that a huge part of why she participates in her milk exchange group is to forge bonds.

“Within the week, I was heading out to meet an amazing mother who provided us with over 500 ounces of milk, as well I received milk from an old elementary school friend who was so happy to have seen the post and be able to provide milk for my daughter,” she says.

At the moment, Savoie and others in need of human milk are left by themselves to find what they need and assess the risk of using milk donated by a stranger.

Kathryn Hayward has been a long-time advocate for the implementation of a human milk bank in Nova Scotia. A professor at the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, Hayward is part of the Breastfeeding Community of Practise. It’s a group that has been preaching the importance of having a milk bank is Nova Scotia since 2012.

“Because we haven’t had a milk bank here, a lot of moms, for altruistic reasons, want to donate their milk because they recognize the benefits of the milk to the child,” she says. Hayward says that, even with no milk banks in the region, mothers donate their milk and do it instead through online groups like Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

Even if a child fits the criteria to get donor milk, the process is anything but simple. All of the IWK’s human milk orders go to the Northern Star Mother’s Milk Bank in Calgary. The milk is then shipped to Halifax and stored in the IWK’s Milk Room.

All the milk that goes through Calgary is thoroughly screened. Donors go through a multi-step process where they answer questions regarding their lifestyle and medical history and then take a blood test. The milk is then pasteurized in labs, stored and retested while being handled meticulously.

When asked if this process was necessary, the answer for Hayward is simple: “yes.”

The reason for all these precautions is also the reason why there are only a few milk banks in Canada. Almost all of the milk banks closed due to concerns of virus transmission. At the time, the medical community was not confident they would be able to detect viruses in human milk.

“Back in the 80s, we had 20 plus banks across Canada and they all closed except the bank in Vancouver and they all closed because of the HIV scare” says Hayward.

Milk banks have since made a comeback. Toronto has opened a milk bank and Héma-Québec is now doing the same in Quebec. The Atlantic provinces have been left behind.

In 2005, as part of the Thrive! A plan for a Healthier Nova Scotia initiative, the province enacted a policy called The Breastfeeding in Nova Scotia. The policy states that “the Department of Health and the Department of Health Promotion and Protection hold a firm and unequivocal position in favour of breastfeeding and communicates its position both within government, the health system, to health system providers as well as the general population.”

However, in 2016, the IWK was still unable to give human milk to all of the families that need it.

Joyce Ledwidge, a dietitian working at the IWK neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), says that the lack of support from the provincial government is the reason there hasn’t been any real progress in opening a milk bank in Halifax.

“Where we seem to lose momentum revolves around provincial funding,” she says.

Martha Paynter has been a prominent advocate of human milk in Halifax and has made donations to the Calgary bank in the past. She says the lack of progress is due to the lack of demand.

“In the absence of more parents demanding more access to milk, there isn’t the political pressure to expand beyond what we are able to purchase from Calgary,” she says. “And Calgary, at this point, has never said we can’t supply your needs.”

However, those needs are being limited by the strict criteria set by the IWK. They do not make orders that would cover all the mothers that need human milk. Only babies that are born prematurely and are at the NICU can get donor milk for a limited time.

Paynter says that’s a problem because “we have clinical leaders in the NICU advocating for the use of this milk because of the clinical evidence.”

Groups, like Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Eats on Feets and Breastmilk Sharing Nova Scotia, have hundreds of members and show that the demand could be much larger.

Kejimkujik expected to benefit from Canada 150

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Road sign for Parks Canada Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Jan 23, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/kejimkujik-expected-to-benefit-from-canada-150/

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, a “discovery pass” has been issued to Canadians wishing to access all national parks for free. The projected tourism boost that could result from this initiative is scaring many fans of the busier national parks, but the forecast is a lot more positive for Kejimkujik.

“We see this as a great opportunity for us,” says John Sheppard, superintendent at Kejimkujik National Park. “It’s a chance to welcome all kinds of people from different backgrounds. Some of whom may have never been to small parks before or may not be familiar with them.”

Nature conservation experts have recently expressed concerns over the expected increase in traffic in certain parks, like Banff and Jasper in Western Canada. Ben Gadd, author and naturalist, fears that the parks are going to be over-stretched and not be able to adequately protect the fauna and flora. Having larger crowds can lead to more garbage left behind, more collisions with animals and a general disruption of a fragile ecosystem.

“It’s a legitimate concern especially in more popular and larger national parks out west where they already have a problem with traffic,” says Raymond Plourde, wilderness coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

But for smaller parks, like Kejimkujik, Plourde hopes that free access will allow Canadians to visit more parks and understand the importance of having a functioning ecosystem. “This will hopefully counteract the fact that Canadians are increasingly living in urban centers and are disconnected from nature,” says Plourde.

Access to the parks is given to anyone with the Parks Canada Discovery Pass. The pass can be obtained online after the applicant enters their full address into their website. Parks Canada says they’re using that information to predict how much of a traffic increase each park can expect.

The expected hike of visitors also means that more will be asked from each park’s staff. Sheppard says they have accounted for that and will have a larger team this year. They had an increase of 16 per cent in staff last year and they expect to exceed that this year.

“We are making preparations for that; we are looking to have more staff and uniform presence in some key areas” he said. “We want to be able to get there and provide them information about what it takes to not only have an enjoyable visit, but also a visit that doesn’t lead to impact on the ecology.”

Kejimkujik is not only a national park, but it is also a national historic site, as it is home to Mi’kmaq artifacts and petroglyphs.

They are protected from the public and only accessible through guided tours. Norm Green, who works for Friends of Keji, does not think that those historical sites are in any danger with the projected boost of new visitors. The association works with Parks Canada to help protect Kejimkujik.

Green hopes the rise of visitors will also draw visitors to the historic sites, so that they can learn more about the Mi’kmaq culture.

Halifax still struggling to find a rat solution

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A rat baiting station at King’s College Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Jan. 24, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/halifax-still-struggling-to-find-a-rat-solution/

The rat problem is far from being a new issue in Halifax and the Municipal councillors are divided over how to solve the problem.

At the Halifax and West Community Council’s bi-weekly meeting on Jan. 17, rodent control was again a big subject of debate. All of the councillors present at the meeting agreed that Halifax has a rat problem, but they did not all see eye to eye on what to do about it.

A staff report was requested in June 2016 by the council in the hopes of having a better understanding of the problem and to present suggestions on how to combat it. On Tuesday, the report was presented, but it fell short in the eyes of a few councillors, especially District 10 councillor, Russell Walker.

“Personally, I don’t think this resolves anything,” said Walker during the meeting. “I am still going to get my emails and phone calls saying, ‘What can you do about my rodent problem?’ And I’m going to say, ‘uhm …’”

The staff report recommended that the Halifax Regional Municipality continue baiting for rodent control on municipal properties. It also recommended that the municipality force “construction sites’ management” to “include rodent control in the form of pre-baiting for a period of 10-14 days prior to demolition or major construction.”

One scientist in Nova Scotia says that construction might be causing the rats to move “into new habitats.”

Andrew Hebda is the curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum.

“Generally, 50 to 60 rats will reside in a city block and as soon as you start disturbing their habitat, that causes a displacement of the rats,” he says.

Walker disagrees that the high number of construction sites in Halifax are the sole cause of the rat problem. He says that contractors have been taking too much unfair blame and the municipality needs to bait the sewers.

“Some people are up to 34-39 rats on their property and there is no construction at all,” Walker says.

HRM spokesperson Tiffany Chase says sewers are only baited when “there’s a project underway on underground infrastructure that causes displacements of rodents.”

To Walker, the staff report “doesn’t come close” to having a real solution.

“It’s a Band-Aid solution,” he says. “Until we bait the sewers, we are not going anywhere with this.”

At the centre of the issue, the municipality is still trying to know where the rats come from and if there is really an increase in the amount of rats.

Hebda, too, is unsure whether there are more rats in Halifax, or if they are just more visible than ever before.

“I am not convinced there are more rats,” says Hebda. “We are just seeing just seeing these ones displaced and once they are displaced they are just looking for a new habitat.”

When asked during the meeting by councillor Richard Zurawski if there was a quantifiable increase in the population of rats in Halifax, or if it was a change in perception. Director of Public Works Bruce Zvaniga replied that he did not have any factual information on that.

“We don’t have tags on the rodents and we don’t know where they are coming from,” says Zvaniga.

Hebda says it’s possible to track rats, but it’s an expensive process. Rats would need to be captured, tagged and recaptured later. There’s also a high chance the rats would die or evade recapture, which would make the sample size too small to gather useful data.

For now, the motion will be forwarded to Halifax Regional Council for their consideration at a later date.

A piece of Syria at the Seaport Farmers’ Market

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Piece of the East with the Minister of Immigration Lena M. Diab Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Jan. 27, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/a-piece-of-syria-at-the-seaport-farmers-market/

Following in the footsteps of Peace By Chocolate and of ice cream entrepreneur Samer Jokhdar, Piece of the East is continuing the trend of new Syrian food startups in Halifax by selling a mix of traditional Syrian desserts, zaatar bread and jam.

The story behind the making of their food, however, is nothing close to traditional.

The idea for Piece of the East came while Ahmed Alhraki, one of the co-founders, was working at the Parker Street Food Bank. One of his responsibilities there is to go through food pallets, and throw away any food that could be compromised or that has a short lifespan.

“Ahmed, one day when we were sorting, said: ‘I can make jam out of this; imagine the amount of jam I could make,’” says Syliva Gawad, another co-founder of the company.

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Piece of the East at Seaport Market Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Gawad thought this over and proposed the idea of a company that could take all the food being thrown away and upcycle it into Syrian cuisine. With the help of Alaa Alhraki, Ahmed’s brother, and Ratat Harb they decided to start Piece of the East.

Melissa Hunt, the food management co-ordinator at Parker Street, was very happy to help them get started. She says that they wish they could upcycle the food themselves, but lack the personnel to do so.

“What they take are things that we can’t use. Things like a bruised apple or a bruised pear,” says Hunt. “Things that we wouldn’t be able to give to the clients.”

Most of the members of Piece of the East still work at Parker Street and put aside any food they can use to upcycle. They say they are not concerned about not finding enough food every week.

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Piece of the East at Seaport Market Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

“We can make food with anything. We can make pickles, we can make jam, bread,” says Gawad. “The ideas are endless.”

With a few months of preparation, they opened Saturday, Jan. 21,  at the Seaport Farmers’ Market. Crowds gathered around they kiosk while offered samples.

A few notable Haligonians also joined the celebration as Lena M. Diab, minister of immigration, and Mike Savage, mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality, came and met the team.

Piece of the East even broke into dancing, showing off their skills to the market and inviting others to participate.

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Piece of the East at Seaport Market Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Piece of the East will be at the Seaport Farmers’ Market each Saturday and Sunday.

Interfaith Harmony Week in times of great turmoil

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Interfaith Harmony Week at the Hindu temple Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Jan. 30, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/interfaith-harmony-week-in-times-of-great-turmoil/

After a recent executive order by U.S. president Donald Trump aimed at banning immigrants from several majority-Muslim countries — and in light of a shooting at a Quebec city mosque on Sunday night — Halifax is hosting an event that stands in stark contrast.

The Interfaith Harmony Week promotes unity through the appreciation of differences. The organizers invite all Haligonians to visit different places of worship and get to know the culture and communities that gather there.

“We walk by these places, but this provides an opportunity as they are prepared to receive guests,” says Clement Mehlman, chaplain at Dalhousie University and one of the organizers in Halifax.

As part of the Interfaith Harmony Week, the cities participating are also competing with each other. This year’s event comes one year after Halifax won third place among hundreds of other cities across the world.

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A meal is served after the event at the Hindu temple Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

The week started yesterday and one of the first events was held at the Hindu temple. Guests and regulars participated in the Sunday Puja and Prasad. The Prasad, a meal that serves as a religious offering, was served after the Puja and offered to everyone.

Interfaith Harmony Week was created by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2010 and is sponsored by the United Nations. One of the event’s goals is to build stronger bonds between all people of faiths and recognize the common values that are shared by believers and non-believers.

“It is very important to have a mutual understanding that all faith groups lead to the same goal of human evolution and spiritual fulfilment, says Sastry Vankamamidi, a priest at the Hindu temple. “Whatever be the god you believe in, you have to practise your religion freely and obtain the goals set in our particular faith.”

As part of the Interfaith Harmony Week, more than 50 people have signed up to participate in the engagement program. All those participating will go to at least three events and meet up after the week is done to talk about their experience. They will carry passports that are signed at every event they attend and are encouraged to immerse themselves as much as possible in the different faith communities they visit.

Darlene Burton is a teacher at the Nova Scotia Community College and is one of those participants. She says she is attending this year after getting rave reviews from one of her students.

“We are celebrating diversity, but really you notice that ‘gee, we are not that different,’” she says.

This year’s Interfaith Harmony Week coincides with harsh immigration bans being implemented in the United States. Melhman says that President Donald Trump was in the back of many people’s minds this year.

“How do we get to the point where we love difference and are not threaten by it?,” Melhman says that the Interfaith Harmony Week is a push in that direction.

That is one of the reasons why the engagement program exists and why Burton is participating.

“With so much discussion and talk about people being more nationalistic and close cultures, one good way to oppose that is to embrace other cultures and demonstrate it through events like this,” says Burton.

Emergency meeting in the House of Commons

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House of Commons Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura

Originally published Jan. 31, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/emergency-meeting-at-the-house-of-commons/

UPDATE, Jan 31, 2017, 11:05 pm AST

At the emergency meeting, NDP MP of Vancouver East Jenny Kwan once again asked for an action plan in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s executive order. Kwan recommended lifting the cap on privately sponsored refugees, fast-tracking refugees that have already been screened in the U.S. and suspend the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement.
Both Kwan and federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called Trump’s immigration policy “racist”.
Liberal Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, defended his party’s current immigration plan saying it was already at a historic high. He said there was no plan to increase the 2017 immigration cap which is set at 40,000 refugees.
Hussen also reaffirmed that the Canadian government has received word from Washington that Canadians with dual citizenship will be allowed in the United States.
He also pointed to a recent Reuters article (https://ca.news.yahoo.com/exclusive-trump-administration-allow-872-refugees-u-week-235509341.html) that reports that the Trump administration will allow 872 refugees into the country. “It suggest that the situation continues to evolve and we will continue to assess the impacts of that,” says Hussen.
On the question of the Safe Third Country Agreement, Hussen says that “the conditions of that agreement continue to be met.”
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Members of Parliament are sparring over what controversial new American travel restrictions should mean for Canadian policy, in an emergency debate on Tuesday in the House of Commons.

On Friday night, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel to the United States for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Some Haligonians want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak up against the ban.

The executive order has drawn a lot of criticism in the U.S., giving rise to multiple protests at airports across the country.

The international community has also been vocal with many foreign leaders openly condemning the travel ban.

Canada’s response so far has been more subdued. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted this Saturday afternoon

Vancouver East’s MP Jenny Kwan has been critical of Trudeau’s response and, in a conference today, said that “words are not enough.”

She is the one who requested the emergency meeting. Kwan says that the meeting will hopefully push the federal government to be more proactive and clarify what the travel ban means for Canadian citizens.

One of the issues that will be debated tonight is the Safe Third Country Agreement. It has been in effect since 2004, and prevents refugees in the U.S from asking for asylum in Canada.

Lee Cohen, a long time immigration lawyer in Halifax, thinks the executive order issued Friday is “outrageous, dangerous and extremely worrisome.”

Cohen has a lot of experience helping clients immigrate to Canada and is getting calls from Americans trying to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

He says that Canada should do everything it can to help anyone trying to get asylum here.

“In this current time of crisis, when genuine refuges who are currently in the United States and fearing that they may be removed from the States, they absolutely should have access to Canada and to have access to Canada unrestricted,” he says. “The safe third country rule must go.”

“The purpose of the rule is to discourage people from asylum shopping and to seek asylum in the country they are located, if it’s a safe country,” says Cohen.

Since Sunday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been asking Canadians to contact their member of parliament to push Canada to act on the U.S. travel ban and abolish the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Many Canadians took them up on that opportunity and Allison Lindsay is one of them. She hopes others in Halifax will do the same.

“I think it’s a great thing to get out and to rally and to stand together with communities,” she says. “But unless you put (on) that pressure and let those people that represent you know what your thoughts are, then they can’t speak for you.”

Lindsay says that she likes the initial response from Trudeau and the federal government, but hopes Canada will be more proactive and condemn Trump’s executive order.

“I hope to continue to see Canada and especially Justin Trudeau really take a hard stand against this, not be bullied and continue to provide shelter and refuge to those who need it,” she says.

The debate will take place at 8:30 p.m. Atlantic time. It can be viewed on C-PAC and on the web at: http://www.cpac.ca/en/.

A show of solidarity at a Halifax mosque

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Two men praying at Ummah Masjid in Halifax  Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

Originally published on Feb. 3, 2017 at http://signalhfx.ca/a-show-of-solidarity-at-a-halifax-mosque/

“You can always find something bright even in the darkest of times.”

That was part of Moataz Soliman’s Jummah Khutbah, Friday prayer, at the Ummah Mosque and Community Centre.

While giving his Khutbah, or sermon, a larger crowd than usual was sitting in front of him. Behind the regulars, hundreds of “neighbours” were listening to him as well.

“What good thing can come out of such a sad situation?” asks Soliman. “This struggle strengthens the good people. Strengthens what is good. Brings about many good things in many people — and one of the things I see in front of my eyes now is our neighbours sitting with us.”

There were always going to be strangers at this event. The Jummah Khutbah is one of many events in the Interfaith Harmony Week. Interfaith Harmony Week is an U.N. sponsored event that promotes communication and understanding between faiths in one municipality.

No one last week, however, could have predicted the size of the crowd that came to participate on Friday.

In response to the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, hundreds of people gathered at the mosque on Friday and, in a show of solidarity, formed a human circle around it by holding hands together and standing outside the building.

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People holding hands around Ummah Mosque in Halifax Photo by Thomas Cobbett Labonté

“When we are surrounding the mosque facing out, we are protecting the sanctity of the sanctuary inside,” says Rev. Norm Horofker. “We respect, honour and encourage those in prayer and their right to do that in peace.”

Horofker is the minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax and one of the organizers of this gathering. “I just started the ball rolling on social media and it took off,” he says.

Kim MacAuley is one of the key coordinators of Interfaith Harmony Halifax and was also at the mosque.

She says that tragedies like the one in that happened in Quebec City shows how important it is to have communication and trust between all communities in Halifax.

“What we need to do is really be proactive so to build the right conditions for peace, harmony and goodwill. That’s what Interfaith Harmony Week is all about,” says MacAuley.

“The support we received today and the previous days is really heartwarming. I cannot describe it in words. It’s beautiful,” says Soliman.

He says people don’t need special events to come and visit, however.

“The mosque is always open. We don’t even need a program,” says Soliman. “The doors are always open and anyone can listen and ask questions.”