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Going To Ghana: Hygiene Saves Lives

As posted on Huffington Post. 

At 6:00 am my alarm goes off and I step out of bed to walk to my bathroom sink and splash my face with some warm, clean water. By 6:30 I fill a pot with water for my morning coffee. I squeeze a fresh lemon into a glass of water and drink every last sip. By 7:00 am I'm out the door, coffee in one hand and my paddle in the other. At 7:30 I slip my boat onto the water for the first of my training sessions. By 9:00 am I am driving home to shower after getting sweaty from my intervals session.

By only 10:00 am, my day has already depended on water for so many things.

Last spring, on World Water Day I was reminded that the majority of the world does not have the same access to clean water that I do. To share my gratitude, I tweeted @WateraidCanada thanking for protecting the water we live in. Not long after I had a response asking if I would become an ambassador, to tell my own water story, a story also about gender inequality.

It was a no brainer for me to get involved.

Within a month I was supporting "The Water Fight" and visiting WaterAid's work in Ghana.

As soon as I arrived in Ghana, I could feel the heat and humidity of the coastal city of Accra. I had never been to a place this hot before and it was almost a shock to the system.

Driving around the city, I really got a feel for how different this part of the world was from what I am used to. Just down the road from our hotel were rundown buildings and slums in every direction that you looked. At each stop we were greeted by locals selling trinkets like old DVD's, random books about how to learn English, drinks, local snacks, and fresh baking. The men and women carried massive trays on their heads with a scarf under to protect the top of the skull. They made it look so easy walking up and down the streets while conversing with their friends and looking back and forth with no trouble.

The next morning, we met the WaterAid Ghana team and together we boarded a plane to Tamale, in the northern region of Ghana.

We traveled even further north to our hotel in Bolgatanga, which was another shocking experience - a massive building with running water, toilets, clean white towels and air conditioning, surrounded by traditional mud huts. These are small run-down stands selling guinea fowl eggs or some sort of textile.

After getting settled in our room, the wind started to whistle and a torrential downpour began. It was rainy season in Ghana which meant almost every night we would fall asleep to the sounds of thunder, rain and wind.

We awoke early to have breakfast on the road and drove for 3 hours until we turned off paved roads onto dirt roads and barren looking territory. We were traveling along the Burkina Faso border and not far off from the Sahara Desert. When I looked out I could see for a long distance, as it was a very flat land, with small shrubbery. There was not a lot of vegetation due to the lack of rain, and a layer of dust covered every surface.

When we finally arrived in Kayoro, I looked out the window to see groups of young children in matching school uniforms. As we drove through the field, all of their eyes were glued on our car.

Our first order of business was to visit the new latrines that had been installed in Akania. We drove on the dirt road to stop just outside a cluster of mud huts.

The Chief took us on a tour to the new latrines. They were solid looking structures with a sturdy roof and located just outside the main living areas. WaterAid had trained local latrine artisans to maintain and build new latrines in the surrounding communities as a way of sustaining these facilities and also providing a source of income. Locally-built structures meant that they were constructed with community considerations in mind. For instance, latrines were built on elevated foundations to be flood-resilient during heavy rains. These particular structures were still very new and still needed a door installed so they had not yet been used.

After gulping down a big cup of my routine coffee I needed a pit stop at this point. The Chief showed me to a sectioned off area with little privacy, indicating this was the current latrine area.

I peered in and there was a metal bucket and in the corner a pile of sticks. I looked back up at the Chief and asked to confirm "I just go in here and then poor it on the sticks?" He nodded in agreement and walked away to give me privacy.

I squatted over the bucket and relieved myself and then picked the bucket up and poured my urine over the sticks. I wondered why it did not smell absolutely terrible and why there was not more human matter there, maybe it had just been cleaned? I also wondered how many people had touched this bucket after going to the bathroom without washing their hands. I tried my best to push these thoughts out of my head.

In Canada, from a very young age we are taught about germs and how they can make us very sick. I walked out and asked the chief where I could wash my hands and he pointed to a bottle that was empty. Needless to say, I could not wash my hands.

On the way back we met some residents making a local dish called 'koko' which is a millet porridge they made with their hands in a deep bowl. In Ghana utensils are not very common. You use your hands to scoop the food into your mouth. The millet porridge is mixed with water and then it is put into a bowl and set out to sit for a few hours where it hardens. It is used like a dumpling scoop to get smothered in curry soups and then shovelled into the mouth.

I wondered if the man offering me porridge had washed his hands? I looked up. The Chief said "Yes, please it is customary that you try some of our food. It would be an honour."

I hesitated, but I did not want to offend the chief as he was so kind to share his home with me. So, I stuck my hand into the mixture took a little bit out and quickly put it in my mouth.

Despite my best effort's that day, that night I shivered with a violent fever and truly found out what it was like to be sick in Africa.

The rest of the day unfolded with such joy and curiosity for learning. There were about 500 school children in the program and they were all divided up into smaller groups to learn each of the play-based learning activities being coordinated as part of the partnerships with Right to Play. The program uses play and games to educate children about the importance of handwashing, what it means to transfer germs, and menstrual hygiene management. As these groups played games with the kids their elders joined in as well, it was very cool to see all generations participate in the program. The day included handwashing relays, germ hand ball and menstruation dances. Many times, while participating in the games, I had to hold back tears of joy because of how accepting and powerful the community was. After each game, the group would stand in a circle and they would reflect and go over what they learned from each game.

Africa Changed me. It changed me for the better. I have not looked at a toilet or clean water the same way since. We are so lucky in Canada and I think a lot of us forget or choose to be ignorant to that fact. The river that I paddle in Kananaskis county is so clean, I can lean over while paddling and take a sip without any worry.

WaterAid has been doing amazing work in places like Ghana for many years. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with them to help kids have a little more time for dreaming and a little less time worrying about collecting water.

This is my Water Fight and I'm glad to be part of it.

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Canoeist Kitchen Recipes

Vegan Pad Thai                      Thai Sauce

  • 1/4 cup raw almond butter
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon tamari
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon pure maple syrup 
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 medium Zucchini, spiralled
  • 2 large carrots, spiralled
  • 1 red pepper, spiralled
  • 1 cup thinly sliced cabbage 
  • 3/4 cup frozen edamame beans
  • 3 green onions, thinly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds 
  • 3/4 cup chopped peanuts

    1. Combine Thai Sauce ingredients in food processor and let sit while preparing vegetables
    2. Prep vegetables. Add the zucchini, carrots, pepper, and cabbage into one or two large bowls. Toss with hands to combine.
    3. Prepare the dressing by processing all dressing ingredients in a mini processor (or simply whisk by hand). The dressing may seem a bit thin at first, but it thickens as it sits.
    4. Top bowls with edamame, green onion, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds. Pour on Thai Sauce and enjoy!

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Spring Rolls

  • 1 package dry rice paper
  • 1 package rice vermicelli noodles cooked
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms diced, thinly sliced 
  • 1 1/2 cup basil leaves, de-branched  
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, de-branched 
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced 
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 english cucumber, thinly sliced

    1. Place rice noodles in a large pot of boiling hot water for about 10 minutes (read instructions on package), then drain and set aside.
    2. Prep veggies by cutting into thin long pieces to fit into the rice wrapping paper
    3. Pour very hot water into a shallow dish or skillet and immerse rice paper to soften for about 10-15 seconds.
    4. Transfer rice paper to a damp cutting board or damp towel and gently spread out edges into a circle. It may take a little practice, so don’t feel bad if your first few attempts are not successful. 
    5. To the bottom third of the wrapper add a small handful of vermicelli noodles and layer veggies. (I also like to add the Avocado Mango Salsa to give a little bit of sweetness) From the bottom gently fold over once, tuck in edges, and continue rolling until seam is sealed. 

Avocado Mango Salsa

1. Mash Avocado into a mixing bowl and add mango, red onion, tomato, jalapeño and Thai Chilli Sauce. 
2. Mix together and serve with spring rolls.  

  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 1 mango, diced into small chunks
  • 1 small red onion, diced into small chunks
  • 1 small tomato, diced into small chunks
  • 1 green jalapeño, minced 
  • 1 tablespoon Thai Chilli Sauce

Vegan Brownie

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoon water
  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 cup Earth Balance butter 
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy chocolate chips
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, whisk together the ground flax and water and set aside.
    2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, cocoa, salt, and baking soda
    3. In a large microwave safe bowl, add chocolate chips and Earth Balance then melt in microwave for about 45 seconds until melted. Stir well then add in flax egg, sugar, and vanilla.
    4. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and stir well.  Now fold in the walnuts.
    5. Scoop batter onto greased/oiled pan and spread with hands until smooth and even.
    6. Bake for 33-34 minutes at 350F and allow brownies to cool in pan for about 1.5 hours. Make sure you are careful when cutting as they are very crumbly! Enjoy with Coconut whip cream, cinnamon, and cardamon.  


Coconut Whipped Cream

  • 1  can full fat coconut milk 
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar

    1. Place a can of coconut milk in freezer for 2 hours.
    2. Take can out of freezer and let thaw for about 30 minutes.
    3. Scoop off the coconut fat that is on top and put into a mixing bowl, leave the liquid contents in the can. With a hand mixer whip together icing sugar and coconut fat until desired consistency. 
    4. Serve on top of brownies and enjoy!  

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Winter Training Camp 2015

I feel forever grateful for living in such a beautiful place. The Alberta Slalom Canoe Kayak Team traded in their paddles for skis for the annual winter ski camp that took place in the Canadian Rockies. We had four amazing days of skiing, running, hiking and exploring. My goal was to reach 100 km's by the end and I exceeded that at 102 km's!! It involved a lot of hard work with spectacular mountain sunrises and crisp fresh air. 

Here is a little snippet I put together to sum up our camp. The video consists of locations: Canmore Nordic Centre, Lake O'Hara, Cascade Fire Road, Grotto Canyon, and Mount Shark. 

Happy Holidays and Enjoy!

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Journey to Middle Earth

It is the time of the year when Canada is graced with the brisk air and snow days. This year Team Canada decided to change it up and head down under to New Zealand and Australia.

Canoe slalom athletes have been put into a unique situation when it comes to traveling with our boats where all Canadian airlines and many international airlines not taking boats on flights. This has put us in a major dilemma as to how we travel to our international training camps and competitions.

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Westcoastin

My revised training for the summer included a second trip out to the west coast to partake in some paddling on different rivers and coastal water bodies. My goal was to diversify my paddling beyond a slalom course. The first highlight was catching the tidal wave at the beautiful Skookumchuck narrows on the Sunshine coast with some old paddling buddies. My coastal trip had two objectives: to have fun and train hard. I was fortunate to have a flexible schedule with a firm departure date and return date with a couple of home-stays along the way (thank you to the Palmer/Reuben family and Taylor family for your amazing hospitality!)