it takes a vil­lage As

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - GIVING BACK JUNE GIRVAN -

Com­mu­nity Voice

June Gir­van cra­dled her new­born daugh­ter in an Ottawa hospi­tal many years ago, a stranger ap­proached her bed­side and made a cruel racial com­ment. “In that mo­ment,” says the noted Ja­maican-born, hu­man rights cru­sader and mother of three, “I re­al­ized that to my job de­scrip­tion of ‘mother’ I would have to add ‘so­cial ac­tivist.’”

And that’s just what she did, ded­i­cat­ing the past fifty years of her life to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for Ottawa’s chil­dren.

Gir­van’s com­mit­ment to chil­dren’s is­sues took root dur­ing her own child­hood, af­ter her fa­ther died when she was only seven years old. What could have been a dev­as­tat­ing blow turned into a life-al­ter­ing les­son in de­vo­tion when her en­tire fam­ily stepped in to of­fer pro­tec­tion, love and care. “The ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing raised by a loving in­ter-gen­er­a­tional ‘team’ is the ba­sis of my think­ing that ev­ery child is sa­cred,” notes Gir­van about her ini­tia­tive of the same name that works to­wards build­ing a child-friendly city, com­mu­nity and na­tion. The web­site is ev­erychild­is­sa­

Gir­van be­lieves in a golden rule that sees adults treat chil­dren “in ways that we ap­pre­ci­ated be­ing treated when we were chil­dren, or would like to have been treated.” It’s a sim­ple, al­most self-ev­i­dent mes­sage, but one that has the power to trans­form re­la­tion­ships be­tween adults and chil­dren.

Gir­van’s cur­rent pas­sion is to have Ottawa des­ig­nated a “Child-Friendly City” by UNICEF, which would see chil­dren’s needs and rights re­flected in all city de­ci­sions. Al­ready, Mayor Larry O’Brien has signed on as “the Chil­dren’s Mayor,” and Gir­van’s mis­sion is to en­cour­age cit­i­zens to get their coun­cilors to vote for the Child-Friendly ini­tia­tive too. “My dream is to have a sign say­ing “Wel­come to Ottawa – A UNICEF Child-Friendly City,” she notes with re­solve.

And while Gir­van’s com­mit­ment is to chil­dren, she cham­pi­ons many is­sues that she hopes will make our com­mu­nity bet­ter, and sup­ports any­one try­ing to make pos­i­tive so­cial change in Ottawa. Says Sarah Onyango, who sits on the board of Black His­tory Ottawa with Gir­van: “June is a for­mer ed­u­ca­tor, a scholar of his­tory, a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer and a bea­con for in­ter­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing who is truly com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing a just and har­mo­nious so­ci­ety for all.”

June Gir­van’s first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence has taught her that it takes a vil­lage to raise a child. But some­times that vil­lage needs a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, and she’s made it her call­ing in life to of­fer it.

Cather­ine Clark is the host of Be­yond Pol­i­tics on CPAC.

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