“Reading between the lines” in Canada

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Canadians are defined by their unique Multicultural society, a four seasons country with lots of winter sports and outdoor activities. Over 35 million people are living in their 9 984 670 km²  land. It’s  an interesting mix of cultures from all over the world, with a strong presence and rules defined by the British influence (they got here third, after the french and the first nations), and a solid international reputation as a tolerant country.

As a constant cultural observer, now joining the Canadian life as my family settles in this new life experience, I practice and try to share the little communication mistakes we all do when trying to fit in.

Personally, I find non-verbal communication as the most important skill that many forget to review and practice when starting a new project in a different environment. Here are some of my findings:

  1. Breaking the ice: It’s the basic first words you might say to stranger just to feel less uncomfortable when silence gets to you. Typical breaking the ice subjects: Hockey (players, results, or anything related to the sport that was news yesterday); the weather (How can anyone be inside with today’s beautiful weather). Any event that made first page in the media (Teachers strike in Peel region; Ontario Sex Curriculum).
  2. Sense of humor: Canadians love jokes, the laugh and they actually have a smile on their faces most of the time. The jokes can include public personalities (as Rob Ford), the weather or their jockey team)
  3. Politeness: they will rarely talk loud or scream bad words even when they are in trouble. They argue with respect for the other person, never sending a message regarding race or religion, social status or political groups. This might sound obvious for many cultures, but in some countries it can be accepted to show all your anger and use inappropriate language.
  4. Fears: Yes, as all humans they can be scared by a changing situation, a new person, terrorism and their future. As an occidental society they follow basic nonverbal communication as the principal skill to accept or reject another person. For example, Canadians look into the eye. They hear you but they need to read your eyes. Canadians, as well as many occidental cultures, seek eye contact that will confirm the message they are listening. It is not ruled by social status, age or gender. Women, men and children will look into your eyes when you are talking to them. If you don’t look them in the eye, it can be read as you are lying, you are nervous or insecure.
  5. Kindness for children and women. In many societies there are important differences between women and men that are socially accepted and culturally sustained for centuries. Not in the Canadian Society, because the legal system offers inclusion and tolerance for all citizens and residents.
  6. This society has a special focus on Family, especially children and women, who are on the top of the list. Many women begin social relations as a consequence by the friendly interaction kids develop when they start to play in the park. Women have exactly the same duties and rights as men. You will find women as chief officers in may big corporations, working as construction builders or bus drivers. They compete for the same professional or academic positions as men.
  7. Age: In the workplace get prepared to have a younger boss. The guy might be 26 years old, but he has gained his position with hard work and good communication skills. Canada is one of the most professional regulated countries, so never underestimate the preparation a person might have to be working at any level.  Never underestimate any job, there is an incredible training program behind it.
  8. Time as a concept. Canadians have a great sense of respect for other peoples time. Time is money, and it really is. When there is a dental appointment at 1, the dentist will start at 1, not a minute after or a minute before. Expect this with the Bus, parties and meetings. Being casual with time is not a good call in Canada.
  9. Salaries: Companies CEEOs or Bosses, probably make a few more thousand dollars yearly than their General director and Managers. It is a horizontal economy and society with many differences, but does not obey hierarchical positions (as can be the Asian or the Latin American culture)
  10. Outdoors: Canadians love being outdoors even in winter. They will ski, skate, camp or swim, because it is safe and it’s fun. Women also participate in these activities. Young families prefer going camping than spending the weekend in a hotel. All over Canada, outdoors activities represent an interesting business because people will find a way to have fun as a group or individually. The cities have many trails or hiking parks that are free or have a reasonable price for the parking lot.
  11. Clothing: Canadians feel proud of having multicultural society, but some dresses that cover entirely the women, really make them suspicious. They feel that if in the cultural background of a family it is accepted to have the female body hidden, there might be something they are hiding. This is a controversial subject that I still need to research more deeply, but the feedback I have received from Canadians is that they fear that some extreme covering is not related to a religion but to a sexual interest.
  12. Language and manners: Drinking soup, shaking hands, using cutlery, talking with food in your mouth, the way you hold a glass of wine, it is incredibly important for this culture. It is so, that many companies hire teams of teachers to provide social rules to some employees.
  13. Body smell: this is a difficult one. Canadians have rules about fragances in public offices. Even in clinics, it is recommended not to wear perfumes. Also, it is commonly noted, that body smell, the one you are born with and that you sweat, no matter what, can also bother Canadians. Some cultures use delicious ingredients in their cooking recipes. It happens that they do not notice their natural body fragrance that has a direct link to the spicy ingredients. The rest of the cultures that live in Canada will notice it, and  they will not do it with happiness. The problem comes when this affects your socializing in the workplace or in any public space. People will isolate others because of their body smell. Also, when bringing a lunchbox into the office, watch out for the smells. Many offices do not have a lunch area, so the condiments will be shared in all areas. A cooking training might be something to explore while living in Canada.
  14. Clean clothes: In Canada you might see lot of people out of fashion. Instead, you will not see people wearing dirty or ragged clothes. Closely linked to the smell problem, Canadians like clean and tidy people. A shower once a day, the regular use of deodorant, monthly care for your hair, weekly manicure, would be the rules. Makeup is optional and it’s very flexible but not as important as it is in some other cultures.

I will write about the Hi, the hand shake and the head nod in a next post!


Yoga and Pilates for Kids

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By Lucia Lecuna

With the cold days knocking at our doors faster than we thought, I started reading about Pilates and Yoga to help me prepare and gain more interest for indoor activities. Actually, I discovered not only I will get benefits, but I can adapt and guide my kids to be more active and gain strength, balance and have fun with simple exercises.

My kids are closer to Lego than video games, at least at home, but if they don’t have too many options or they remain inactive for two hours, I am the one that starts to worry. How can we motivate our kids to get more active with a fun and inexpensive option, without pushing them to do a task.

There are lots of great body positions either in Yoga or Pilates, that can be easily performed by young kids, making them laugh, move and exercise without noticing your guidance. Yoga postures make kids see the world in a different perspective, imagine a fantasy and perform different characters or animals in the natural environment.

All you need is some indoor space, and a mat to work on. Imitating the walk of their favorite animal, like the Elephant, frog, eagle, fish, dog or even Dinosaur, will be a lot of fun for many minutes. You can set some music for the background, with a low volume, and counting seconds to hold on an animal walk.

Prepare the room:

Probably you will need to move some furniture and fragile objects. This is an adult task, but some older kids can help specially to set things back where they were. The room has to be in a comfortable temperature, not too warm or cold.

Beware of hanging lamps or electrical cords, like the telephone ones. Some of these activities can include jumps and crawling.

Houses also have lots of distractions. It is better if you turn off the TV, computer or video games.

Appropriate clothing:

No shoes or socks. Socks are nice during these cold days, but can make you or your kids slip and fall, and you don’t want an accident. Actually, pediatricians are promoting bare foot, specially at home, which develops the toddlers feet arcs.

Use comfortable leggings, shorts and shirts. It’s easier with stretch clothes or tight t-shirts’, that wont go to your face when standing upside down..

Create an agenda:

A very basic one. It could be a list of the positions you will do, such as the warrior, the dog, or the monkey. 30 minutes might be enough time for small toddlers and kids. They will probably want more, but you can always repeat apposition or get inspired in the moment.

Some positions


Tell your kid to seek the position of a frog that is resting. They have to bend both knees and put their hands next to their feet. This is a very comfortable position for most of the kids. Then at the count of 3, they have to jump as high as they can. Do it 10 times, allowing 5 or 8 seconds to rest between every jump. If you are doing this with your kid, you can make him/her follow you to different spots in the room.

The sandwich

Can be done with a kid and an adult or with two kids.

Locate  yourself back to back, sitting on the floor. One kid  will relax over the other, while that kid tries to touch his/her toes. They have to do it slowly, and not pushing all their weight over the kid that is below. This is a great stretching position. Allow them to bend their knees if they feel pain.

Creating circles:

With legs, arms, hands and hips, slowly draw circles. You can hold hands when doing this and move coordinating the movement with music.

Stretch arms:

Gently circle your arms, on top of your heads, breathing in when you put them up, and breathing out when your arms come back down. It can be done in the beginning and the end of the routine.

The Robot squeeze:

Put your shoulders up to your ears, first 5 times with one, holding 5 seconds for each. Then pull both and walk around lifting your toes, and straight legs, feeling like a robot.

Sunshine stretch

Starting with the hands in a prayer position, standing up. Lift your hands stretching them over your head. Then exhale and fold forwards bending your knees and put the hands in front of your feet, keeping the palms of both feet and hands flat. This could make them feel some stretching on the back of the knees. Kids are usually more flexible than adults but let them bend their knees if they want to. You can try the Elephant walk when joining this position with your kids. You can make them follow you until you reach a certain spot slowly, as Elephants do.

The Dog:

Staring with both knees and hands on the floor, as a crawling baby, fingers wide and spreading the body weight into each hand. Breath in and out, lift the knees of the floor and draw a triangle with your body.

You can make them walk around like dogs, and even lift the legs one by one, and then the arms. Also, you can move using different speed levels, not as a “car race”, but making them feel the possibilities their body has when rhythm is included.

NOTE: There are several books at the Library that can help, even created for the family and kids. You can also register for a Yoga-Pilates program with your children. As the body learns you will need more and there is always some risk to get injured if you are trying to perform a complex position at home. Check local programs!

Kerr Street Ministries Day Camp

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They did it again: Summer camp for all, By Lucia Lecuna

For Gary O´Neil, Executive Director of Kerr Street Ministries -an Oakville charity organization designed to provide help for low income families-, speaking about their Day Camp is a “back to school” situation, because he was an energetic camper when he was a kid, and he knows the fun and learning experience you get just for being in a different environment. Being away from home and out of school is what makes it work.

It has being 18 years since Kerr Ministries has been offering one of the best Day Camps in Oakville. This is a camp for kids to laugh and learn from playing while often making lifelong friendships. It is a life changing experience for many of these kids, and it’s possible thanks to the many donations that sustain and maintain the low cost of the programs they provide for low income families.

LL: What makes the difference with Kerr Ministries Day Camp and the other options we have in Oakville?
“We have developed a program that includes a huge amount of creativity along with fun and excitement. Kids never get bored here and they feel absolutely included and appreciated by their peers and the counselors. We select and train our counselors and they are selected for having qualities we want the kids to benefit from and imitate.

The kids won’t have to stay at home just because they can´t pay for a camp experience. That is what Kerr Street Ministries Day Camp is all about. Summer can be a long time doing anything, but it can be fun when the best moments are at camp, making new friends and growing up socially and emotionally.

Last year one volunteer for a counseling guide told us that he was a former Kerr St. Ministries day camp camper, many years ago. He came back as an adult proud give something back with his experience and his happines for what he lived with our help. This made us realize that the work we are doing is improvig the future we want for all the families. This motivates us and is a proof that We have build respect and a sharing relationship with the kids. The camp experiences will make them part of a group and they will want to stay here during the whole summer.

LL: What are the main activities you will offer?
We will have arts and crafts, sports, music, swimming, field trips (in the past we have taken the kids to Niagara Falls, the Science Museum of Ontario, and The Toronto Zoo) and much more. They will have parties, movies and costume days among other exciting activities.

LL: How can the families register their kids?
We have the capacity to provide the camp for over 120 kids each year. We receive kids from ages 6 to teenagers. Their parents or Guardians have to fill out a form that they will find on our web page: http://www.kerrsteetministries.com or in our front desk. We charge $25 for registration fee. This fee may be waived for eligible families. Families should bring the form to our offices located at 485 Kerr Street, Oakville, ON L6K 3C6.

For more information, please visit: http://www.keerstree.net or call: T 905. 845.7485

Good Habits Are Getting Trained

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Kerr Street Ministries scores again with Club 31 , By Lucia Lecuna

Walking into the Kerr St. Ministries building, which is close to the intersection at Speers Rd makes you wonder, how can they do it? And why didn´t I know about this before? The busy groups of children come and go to join guided activities in a calm and organized environment.
You can sneak into a sports and recreational room to the left, and also into a kitchen that is prepared to provide a healthy dinner for those who seek help in their facilities.

Gary O’Neil is a young business man who became attracted to this charity when he was at the top of his career. He truly believes in the success of this social enterprise, where Kerr St. Ministries is helping families from Oakville deal with their financial problems. For without the help they receive here at KSM they would find poverty at their door.

Working with children isn’t an easy task, but at Kerr Street Ministries they know how to maximize the time they spend with these children. They recognize that it is important to gain trust and respect from both the kids and their families.

The challenges they face: handling all ages, with a wide variety of situations, and helping families have a more productive life. KSM helps the children and the teens, knowing what they have to live with every day.

It’s a long path being walked by the staff and volunteers at KSM, to keep motivated, to understand, to be flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the families and kids is a challenge they handle each day. When Gary offered me a tour of the facilities I saw the light, it was a genuine shine radiating from him. The fluency of his speech, the passion in his words, and the light in his eyes showed me what KSM is capable of accomplishing.

I have a little knowledge of some of the charities here in Canada, and I have to say that it seems Canadians have all covered. But for me, with my personal backgroud groing close to some Latin American Charities (Fe y Alegria, OSCASI, Damas Salesianas, Fundacion Corazon de Maria),this one is truly is amazing, has grown full with creativity, local compromise and great reputation. The exciting piece is that it is located in the heart of Oakville, available for local families who need help.

Club 31:
That’s 31 minutes with 31 kids doing homework!
Starting last January, KSM included a guided teaching experience designed to help children who need assistance with their homework. Some just needed a little extra practice to improve their learning experience, while others were seeking to “Grade Up” with a serious incentive to study.

Below is a Q & A with Gary O´Neil, Excecutive Director of Kerr Street Ministries

LL: How did you come up with the idea to create Club 31?
We have worked with the schools that are close to Kerr Street Ministries, and found out that the kids needed support for their homework and that the grades were coming down. Most of the kids were already part of our after school programs and we decided to be focused on their academic performance. It was a real problem that their families weren’t able to pay for extra lessons to help them with this. Kids just don´t feel that learning and good grades is something important because they see it in the distance, not important for today.

We formed an alliance with the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation (MPCF), Oakville Toyota-SCION and Lexus of Oakville, and together we designed a $1.000 RESP award to students that showed improvement with their academic grades, discipline and ability to manage their study time.

LL: How can you get them to sit and do the work?
First we only ask them to stay for this task for a short period of their time. We also offer them the possibility of the $1.000 from Toyota-Lincoln fund. The teacher is very motivating so we invite them to think beyond their homework and bring their learning experience into a real life situation. Chemistry, Physics and Math become more real when the children understand how they can be involved in their world.

LL: Can any child from Oakville join your Club 31?
Yes. For the moment it is designed for 31 children, and we have two groups, one for children that are still in Elementary School and the other is for teenagers from High school. The first group comes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the other group comes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They have to apply and demonstrate that their family has a low income. Any child, in either category from any Oakville School is welcomed.
We asked them: “Why don’t you do your homework here instead of doing it at home when you get back from the after School Program?” It just made sense for them, and voluntarily they joined in the groups.

LL: Do the children have the possibility to choose if they want to work on their homework for 31 minutes, or it is a compromise?
They are always allowed to choose and obviously they rather be playing basketball than doing their homework. But at a certain point they get it, especially if the find out that the gym or the park is empty because the other kids are in Club 31 room. Some bring friends and are starting to get into the habit. They know that afterwards they will get a snack and free time in the gym to play whatever they want until 6 pm.
I always quote the old saying, “You can lead the horse to the water but you cannot make them to drink”, so they have to figure that this temporary sacrifice will be a long term achievement.

LL: Is Club 31 seeking volunteers as teachers?
We are open to anyone who will want to contribute with Club 31. Right know our volunteers are retired or non-working professionals with a teaching background. But we still need more support that can come from anyone with teaching experience. They must be willing to help by sharing their own experience. Sometimes kids have essays to write, so it’s not only math or sciences that they need help with.

LL: Have you identified a specific population that needs Club 31?
We have identified that some clients are immigrants in the process adapting to the Canadian lifestyle. Some have been here for a long time, but have a very low income, and are often without a job. Club 31 also has Canadian kids whose families cannot finance the academic extra support needed and they come to us.

For more information, please visit: http://www.keerstree.net or call: T 905. 845.7485