Photo: Community Leader recalls life-changing trip

Community Leader Janet Willis tells the story of why she became part of the environmental movement.

By Aryne Sheppard

The Foundation's community leaders are doing their part to protect nature and our quality of life. Their stories are inspiring and diverse. Each community leader is motivated to act for very unique reasons. As part of our narrative contest called "Here's your chance to inspire David Suzuki", we asked them to tell us why they got involved in the environmental movement.

The following submission was submitted by Janet Willis from Victoria, BC. Here's what keeps her going:

The Dengue Fever Revelation

There was a pivotal, heart-wrenching turning point for me in 2006 when I took my son (then 12 years old) on a six month trip through Asia. We arrived in Cambodia on a dusty, bumping bus and immediately upon settling in for the night in Phnom Penh, discovered we had arrived smack in the middle of a dengue fever epidemic, a disease transmitted by mosquitos.

The next day, we attended a children's hospital founded by Dr. Richner from Switzerland. There we learned that tens of thousands of children have been dying of dengue fever in the last decade and that dengue fever has become an almost ongoing epidemic. In past centuries, it had been a cyclical problem, occurring approximately every ten years. (During our travels, we had also learned that malaria was a disease moving up into higher altitudes because of temperatures rising due to global warming.)

I don't believe that any studies have been done to look into the reasons why a centuries old pattern of dengue fever had suddenly in the last decade turned into an ongoing epidemic. My immediate assumption was that this, too, was due to global warming. It was at this moment that I became incensed! It is mainly the wealthier countries causing the global warming crisis. This impoverished country, Cambodia, had few vehicles and few houses were supplied with electricity. They were not causing the problem, and yet they were the ones dying of the results of the problem. They were innocents. It was at this moment that I became entirely committed to doing something about our destructive path, for the sake of the Cambodian children.

When I returned to Canada, I began riding my bike daily to work — 34 kilometers round trip, and did so for those children. On the winter mornings, when it was dark and cold, windy and rainy, and I did not want to get out of my warm bed, at 6:30am, to make the ride, I would think of those children and leap from my bed. They were my motivation. They filled my heart with sadness, but also an enormous commitment to ensure that I did all that I could to make a difference in any way I could... for their sakes.

Since then, I became a founding member of the Ministry of Attorney General Green Team in Victoria, British Columbia and worked on educating across the Ministry regarding changing behaviour. I attended city council in my area and convinced them to pass an anti-idling by-law (Langford municipality). I am now a Community Leader with the David Suzuki Foundation and anxiously awaiting any projects that I can assist with. The children of Cambodia are still in my heart. My concern for them still burns and drives me with commitment and passion, to do all that I can to make a positive change. I still ride my bike every day, and every time I ride, I think of those children. I ride to help them live.

July 20, 2011

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1 Comment

Jul 20, 2011
8:47 PM

I have been trying to get some attention about our garbage problems. In Langley where I live they are on a "recycle all your garbage" thing. My peave is what about all the plastic that is not recyclable. Is there some way that manufactors can all use recycleable plastic. Very few of all plastic can be returned for reuse.
Can I get your comments on this issue.

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