Thursday, April 28, 2016

Volunteer Opportunities with BARC

Bay Area Ambassadors:
Volunteer Opportunity with the Bay Area Restoration Council

BARC's Vision is for a thriving, healthy and accessible harbour. Specifically, volunteer involvement is critical to two of BARC's mandates:

  • promote protection and appreciation of the Hamilton Harbour watershed ecosystem; and
  • assess and enhance public awareness and understanding of the environmental status of Hamilton Harbour and its watershed.

Volunteer Opportunity: Outreach
The Bay Area Restoration Council is currently seeking motivated, independent, friendly, confident and environmentally conscious individuals to interact with the public at its outreach
Duration and location of volunteer involvement:
Volunteer involvement runs from mid-May to September annually. Volunteers are needed to fill afternoon, evening and weekends shifts at the Waterfront Kiosk (Bayfront Park, Hamilton).

Specific responsibilities for Bay Area Ambassadors attending the Kiosk include:
  • operation, including interacting effectively with the public; and Volunteering in public outreach with BARC provides opportunities to:
    • play an integral role in educating the public, as a team player and/or leader; and
    • learn about Hamilton Harbour and its watershed. 
Interested in joining our team?
Contact: Steve Watts, Program and Communications Coordinator

Friday, April 22, 2016

We Are Your Future: Creativity and Resilience Among Women Weavers in Tlamacazapa, Mexico

Last semester, OPIRG staff, Shelley and Cecilia, had the rare opportunity to visit with the women weavers of Tlamacazapa in northern Guerrero, Mexico. 

The following is Shelley’s recount of the experience: 

Our visit was prompted by an invitation from Atzin Community Development and made possible by financial support from OPIRG McMaster, CUPE 3906, UNIFOR Local 5555 and the Hamilton and District Labour Council.  

Atzin is a small non-profit organization, working in solidarity with the Indigenous Nahua community of Tlamacazapa, Mexico, since 1997. The community lives in acute poverty and has experienced a severe erosion of traditional culture and language. The determinants of poverty affecting the community are many and complex, further exacerbated by a long history of systemic oppression.   

Malnutrition is prevalent, more than half of the women are illiterate, and a quarter of the children do not attend school. Lack of clean water is a constant worry. The village wells have cracks in the limestone, where water trickles down and villagers have to wait for hours in the dry season to fill their containers. During the rainy season, the wells become contaminated with runoff of garbage and excrement. Further complicating matters is the presence of naturally occurring lead and arsenic in the water. Atzin research revealed that the poorest families use 7 – 12 litres of water per person per day and the average family uses 7 – 20 litres of water per person per day. This is well below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum to maintain health of 25 litres per person per day and 15 during a disaster. At present, a municipally funded project is seeing the streets dug up to lay sewer pipes, a problematic endeavour from many angles. The sewage will be dumped into a lagoon near the primary school with no set treatment plans. In addition to that, discussions regarding future contingency plans in the case of lack of water and consequent hardening of sewage in the pipes is severely lacking. This presents a large concern for health and sanitation, among other factors, such as financial. Is this simply poor planning or a blatant example of ongoing exploitation of the poor?

Atzin has been able to respond to the needs of the community by focusing on four main areas:  Health and Healing; Community Education and Literacy; Income Generation for Women, and Environment, Water and Sanitation. Health and Healing programming teaches participants how to use an ecological rocket stove to prepare a nutritious meal of lentils and vegetables. Samples are distributed and leftovers are sold at cost. The Safe Motherhood program includes a series of prenatal classes, prenatal checkups and post-delivery follow-up. Atzin is also in the initial stages of fundraising for a Women’s Wellness Centre to be built in the community, which among the many amenities will include a birthing centre and a Crisis Reception Centre for Women. The Centre will include outdoor healing gardens and is designed using sustainable principles.  Education initiatives include programs for both women and youth to engage in literacy classes, as well as tutoring for children and special scholarships for youth.  

OPIRG has long supported the work of Atzin, most noticeably by selling woven palm baskets in our office — everything from quirky chickens to large colourful hampers — with proceeds going to Atzin. We have also facilitated student volunteer placements with Atzin; nursing, engineering and arts and science students have gained valuable learning experience through their time with Atzin and one student returned to form an OPIRG working group, Walking with Tlama

When the invitation to attend “We Are Your Future” arrived, I was excited to attend the art opening in order to visit with Atzin staff and volunteers and, most importantly, to reconnect with the women weavers and other familiar faces from previous visits. The exhibit featured works of art by Mexican artist Aranda and Canadian artist Ray Dirks, and a large selection of beautiful baskets. It was an empowering and emotional experience for the women to see themselves depicted in art, their struggles, strengths and daily labour presented to the world as something of value and to be given thoughtful consideration. The exhibition will tour throughout Mexico and Canada with an aim to increase public awareness and create support for the work of Atzin.

For many of the women, their stories include persistent illness, the loss of young children, alcoholic husbands and domestic abuse. It takes tremendous courage for village women to take steps to change their daily reality, from having the courage to learn to write their own name to leave their community for the first time to attend trainings held by Atzin in Cuernavaca. Their training with Atzin, whether as community health promoters and midwifery attendants or in expanding their income generating skills beyond the weaving of baskets, has allowed them to see that another life is possible. These are hard gained glimmers of hopefulness.

A primary purpose of the intensive training schools hosted by Atzin is to begin to reconnect the women to their cultural heritage. Women and youth take on responsibility for delivering Atzin programming in the community. The training schools provide an opportunity to learn conflict resolution skills, communications and creativity development and to engage in topics such as human rights, gender and economic productivity. The schools are always followed by regularly held  learning circles. Nacho, a Nahua leader from Amatlan, is instrumental in these trainings and will often lead the attendees on treks lasting many days to sacred sites, such as Xochicalco, an archaeological site dating to the 8th century CE. We visited the community of Amatlan with Nacho and followed a winding trail alongside a small stream to a natural gateway in the mountain face sacred to the Nahua people. Nestled in the valley of the mountains, surrounded by plum trees and with a spectacular variety of flowering plants, Amatlan stands in complete juxtaposition to the arid and rocky terrain of Tlamacazapa. Although poor, the community of Amatlan has maintained spiritual wealth, cultivating traditional healing and maintaining a connection to sacred lands. Working with Nacho and members of his community has been an inspiration for the women. And our time with Atzin was an inspiration for us.

“We Are Your Future:  Creativity and Resilience Among Women Weavers in Tlamacazapa, Mexico” will open at The Pearl Company in Hamilton on November 19, 2016.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Change the world now. OPIRG working groups get you started.

OPIRG working groups are a place for you to set targets for effective social justice or environmental goals, and most importantly, take action to bring about positive results.

Over the years student-led working groups have brought Fair Trade to campus, conducted waste audits, worked with McMaster to improve battery recycling, created Hamilton's first volunteer run bike repair workshop (Recycle Cycles), build the foundation for Mac Farmstand, lobbied and achieved pedestrian and cycling safety improvements, successfully organized against police practice of carding; recent groups are engaging on Indigenous issues, working to get more open source textbooks for courses, to reduce the amount of waste created by disposable coffee cups, and seeking to have McMaster divest from fossil fuels, just to name a few. (Read working group year end reports from 1998 onward, or see our current groups)

If you have an issue you want to take action on, start by filling out our working group application. If you have questions or want to discuss your ideas, you can contact our Coordinator of Volunteers Randy: or 905-525-9140 x26026.

OPIRG helps you by providing orientation and skills development along the way. Other volunteers will be able to join you in your journey for justice!

Big changes start with small steps. Consider walking toward a better world with us!

Deadline to apply, April 29, 2016

Deadline April 29, 2016. Poster by Sadiyah Jamal

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Snapchat story from the eco bike tour of Hamilton

Full story in the McMaster Daily News. Two OPIRG projects started by Coordinator of Volunteers (Randy) were featured on the ride: Hamilton Street Tree Project and Lot M Rehabilitation/Parking to Paradise.  Thanks to Krista Kruja for sharing her experience with the Street Tree project as a student staff in 2014, and Reyna Matties for holding the Lot M segment sessions.

Weather was perfect for this ride, thanks to Dr. Mike Egan (McMaster History) for including us!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Eco Park

Here's a recent article on the from the Hamilton Spectator about the Cootes to Escarpment Eco Park initiative - OPIRG has had a representative (Randy Kay) on the Advisory Committee since 2008, and we are now a member of the Friends of Cootes to Escarpment group. 

The Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark is starting to live up to its name.

Conservationists have worked for a decade on the dream of linking thousands of hectares of protected green space between the Niagara Escarpment and Cootes Paradise's recovering wetlands into a massive urban "eco-park."

But the ambitious effort started with a big "hole in the doughnut" bordered by the curving limestone spine of the escarpment and the forested fringe of Cootes owned by the Royal Botanical Gardens, acknowledged natural lands head Tys Theysmeyer.

For decades developers wanted to build in that doughnut — known by locals and builders as Pleasant View — spurring environmental protests and a pivotal Ontario Municipal Board battle that ended in 1995 with the OMB ruling one home could be built per 10 hectares. Pleasant View became part of the Greenbelt in 2005.

Now, the hole is starting to visibly fill in with green space — on the map and in person — after the December purchase of two critical properties in Dundas. This past weekend, volunteers started re-naturalizing a half-kilometre section of two brooks, Mink and Hickory, that get their start on one of the properties near the intersection of York and Valley roads.

That included seeding grasses and wildflowers and planting some 2,500 or so shrubs on a farm property that will eventually revert to naturalized meadow. In the short term, the doughnut-filling 20-hectare property helps directly connect Cootes Paradise marsh to the Cartwright Nature Sanctuary on the escarpment.

PDF: View a detailed map of the proposed EcoPark

"The linkages are exciting because we're immediately improving the prospects for wildlife and threatened species as well as the creeks that run through to Cootes or the harbour," said Theysmeyer.

"You may never visit one of (the properties) but they will be working from now on to clean the water that ends up in the harbour."

The $1.7-million purchase of the two properties — originally listed for millions more — took two years to negotiate and involved a laundry list of partners including municipalities, conservation authorities, the RBG, the Hamilton Naturalists' Club, Friends of the Greenbelt and the Hamilton Community Foundation.

While the deal is done, the fundraising is not.

"We're actively seeking donations — and not just for this property," said land securement co-ordinator Jen Baker, who estimates almost half of the purchase price still needs to be raised. "This is a long-term project for everyone."

Interested residents can donate money or even land to the cause — and more than a few have in the last few years, including the namesakes for the new Eileen and John Holland Nature Sanctuary on Old York Road in Burlington.

Both Hamilton and Halton Region have officially asked the province to pursue "special purpose" legislation to recognize and protect the unique urban park in some manner.

But the plan is not to acquire every scrap of land under the Mountain between Cootes and Burlington, emphasized David Galbraith, the RBG's head of science and a McMaster professor.

He pointed out the area is filled with private homes, quarries and businesses. "People live here, more people will come here in the future — we don't want to stop that," he said. "But we are hoping to work with those folks where possible to ensure the ecology is respected."

To that end, the project has a full-time "stewardship technician" who will offer workshops and even visit homeowners interested in learning about habitat restoration and financial incentives available for such projects.

Interested in Cootes to Escarpment?
Looking to participate in the project?Residents can:

Volunteer for tree-planting or other land improvement projects;

Donate to offset recent or future land purchases;

Donate, sell or create conservation easements on your own property;

Hook up with experts (for free) to give advice on how to take care of ecologically sensitive land;

Information on all those options is on the website at

905-526-3241 | @Mattatthespec

Street Tree Project Coordinator: Student Summer Job with OPIRG McMaster

Street Tree Project Coordinator 2016
OPIRG McMaster is seeking a Street Tree Project Co-ordinator, subject to Service Canada, Summer Jobs guidelines.

Building on three successful projects during the summers 2013-2015, OPIRG McMaster is looking to apply lessons learned to expand our reach into more Hamilton Neighbourhoods where additional street trees would benefit residents’ experience of air quality.

Air quality studies conducted by Dr. Dennis Corr, Engineering Physics at McMaster University, found high concentrations of air borne pollutants in the lower city, including High pm 10 and High pm 2.5, High nitrogen dioxide and a mortality rate up to 8% higher than average.

OPIRG McMaster arranged support for the project to address localized air pollution with the ward councillors with the support of the city’s Street Trees program.

Currently, city street trees are made available upon request to home-owners. Street trees are proven to contribute to improving local air quality, as well as adding to improved property values and other health benefits.

The Street Tree Project changes the onus by actively targeting a neighbourhood to provide a more active and comprehensive planting – we would continue to sign up home-owners and take the requests as a bundle to the city.

Tasks and Responsibilities

  • The student position would focus on implementing a door to door canvas, utilizing a small group of volunteers from McMaster and the larger community to make homeowners aware of the street tree program and the potential to add a tree to their property.
  • The student would be responsible for recruiting, orienting and supervising volunteers in the field and for compiling the street tree request information.
  • The student will be expected to develop outreach capacity by targeting neighbourhood hubs in areas of the lower city and offering to train volunteers from the neighbourhoods to carry out door to door campaigns.
  • The student would also be required to seek partners in the community and from McMaster and make recommendations for further action.
  • The student would be required to keep a web blog of activities, run the street tree social media (twitter), to prepare (if required) a handbill and checklists for homeowners/volunteers as needed, and to write a final report detailing the advantages and disadvantages encountered in pursuing the project objectives.


Details of the Position

Hourly Rate of Pay: $14.00
Hours Per Week: 30
Employment Start Date: Monday, May 2, 2016
Employment End Date: Thursday, June 30, 2016
Work Schedule: Monday – Friday
Application Deadline: Friday, April 29, 2016 (deadline updated on Ap.12)
Applications require a cover letter and resume and should be submitted to

Please note, to be eligible for Canada Summer Jobs, students must:
  • be between 15 and 30 years of age at the start of the employment;
  • have been registered as full-time students in the previous academic year and intend to return to school on a full-time basis in the next academic year;
  • be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or person to whom refugee protection has been conferred under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act3; and,
  • be legally entitled to work in Canada in accordance with relevant provincial/territorial legislation and regulations.
OPIRG welcomes the contributions that individuals from marginalized communities bring to our organization, and invites aboriginal people, people of colour, poor and working class people and those on social assistance, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queer-oriented people; transgender, transsexual, intersex and two-spirit people; single parents, members of ethnic minorities, immigrants, people from non-academic backgrounds and people with disabilities to apply. We encourage applicants to describe the contributions and experiences they would bring to the OPIRG organization in their cover letter.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Climate Change and Environment: Navigating from Risk to Resilience

Happy to be taking part in the bike tour to talk about OPIRG's Street Tree Project in ward 3, and McMaster's Lot M Parking riparian zone de-pave project

Sign up for the bike tour part here!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Notes from Engaging City Hall, How and Why

 Random assortment of quotes from this morning's discussion.
"All politics are relational"
Councillor Johnson
"Half of politics is showing up"
Meeting with a politician?: "Have an ask"
Councillor Green
Students could have a candidate and have representation at all levels of government (i.e. McMaster)
"It matters whether you are a constituency or not"
"Need to elevate the conversation, get it in the news cycle"
"People who [complain about] students contact me everyday: Students don't."
Meeting with a politician?: have a plan, don't think the councillor is going to do all your work for you.
Look at what committees councillors sit on and how they vote, committees can give you insight into who will support (or not support) your issue.
Easiest to reach politicians at Municipal level
Host Sunia from Global Citizenship Collective working group (L) with
councillors Green and Johnson, and some student and community guests

Thankful for the insights and sharing of both councillors Green and Johnson, really appreciated all the perspectives on making change happen!

Free COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT workshop, April 7