... Make up Manitoba's one-of-a-kind 'blanket

Just as Manitobans can be assured of a blanket of snow during the winter months, so too can they be assured of another type of blanket covering the province year-round.
It’s not the patchwork of farmers’ fields or the textured terrain of the North. Rather, it’s a cosy quilt of compassion. Stitched together with our province’s unique trifecta of people, places and partnerships, this quilt’s global design is one-of-a-kind.
Manitoba is home to many international development organizations, each of them contributing to the patchwork of the province’s unique location within this field of work. Last year, Manitoba Council for International Cooperation’s 39 member organizations worked in 26 countries through the support of Manitobans.
For Rebecca Deng, Executive Director of The Excel Empowerment Centre, Winnipeg is “a unique city of opportunity.” She found support in the city for her vision of empowering newcomer women here and supporting women and children in South Sudan who have been affected by conflict.
TEEC offers sewing lessons to newcomer women in Winnipeg to provide them with a skill set to earn an income. Sewing unites newcomer women from across the world because “sewing does not need language, it’s a skill,” says Deng.
Deng, along with many of the women who work at TEEC, arrived in Canada as immigrants and have since become Canadian citizens. Their shared experiences provide them with unique global perspectives that equip them to bring people together to improve their lives — regardless of where they come from.
Meanwhile, as founder and CEO of Make Music Matter, Winnipegger Darcy Ataman never takes for granted the close human connections he makes throughout his work. The Healing in Harmony music therapy program offers opportunities for survivors of sexual violence and other traumas to share their stories through song.
For Ataman, one of the greatest privileges of the work he does is “to have a vulnerable community open up to you and let you work with them…. Trust is a big thing and the fact that these communities, and even person to person, welcome me into their homes so to speak, is the most beautiful part.
Make Music Matter offers Healing in Harmony at 11 sites in eight countries. By bringing a recording studio to survivors, harnessing the power of the creative process, and sharing their songs on global streaming services, the program helps empower marginalized individuals where conflict and injustice have caused trauma.
It’s a unique way of stitching the world together by helping to reduce the sense of isolation that some survivors may feel and contributes to a renewed sense of empowerment.
“The fact that their story gets out directly, by themselves, through their music, starts to erode (the isolation) and that is really, really important,” says Ataman.
Make Music Matter and TEEC draw on Manitobans’ helping hands to create life-changing experiences for the people they work with, helping them to feel empowered to overcome obstacles.
“We’re not giving someone anything. We’re setting the path for somebody, and they walk down it, so they have their own agency to heal themselves,” explains Ataman. “That’s part of the secret sauce that makes (Make Music Matter) so effective.”
Deng encourages Manitobans to continue to “always, always (be) thinking for the better world.”
The work of Ataman and Deng are two of the patches that make up a unique quilt of people, places and partnerships. Stitch by stitch, we can work together to create a fabric of compassion and justice that blankets the world.
Janice Hamilton is executive director of the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, a coalition of organizations involved in international development.
This article originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.

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