Together we are mighty

This is a picture of Lynne Raskin, CEO of South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto, receiving an award on behalf of three community health centres whose collective advocacy has led to what will be the establishment of the first Supervised Injection Services (SIS) for drug users in Ontario.

I am in the room with several hundred other people fully mesmerized by Lynne’s words, not only as she describes the how and why for this work, but the whom.  Lynne and her colleagues are dedicating the award to a colleague that they lost while waging this battle for approval of SIS – an effort that has been over a decade in the making.  Lynne speaks of the importance of people who have lived experience with drug use as being critical to planning and service delivery, and the tremendous impact that their colleague and advocate Raffi Balian had, both before, and after his death.

The event is the Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC) Transformative Change Awards, which is held as part of their annual conference.  I am lucky enough to be here as part of my role as Co-Chair for the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres (CACHC), of which Lynne is also a board member.

I have spent most of this week thinking about the national and provincial contexts for community health, and the larger issue of health equity. Together with my CACHC colleagues, we have been engaging in setting new strategic directions, and focusing on how we can influence public policy that supports equitable health.  We are doing this against the backdrop of the AOHC conference, an inspiration to those of us living in different landscapes across the country.  AOHC represents 107 community-governed primary health care organizations in Ontario, a very different place than here in Manitoba where our provincial organization, the Manitoba Association of Community Health (MACH), is made up of 11 members.  Though this difference may seem daunting, the effervescent CEO of AOHC, Adrianna Tetley, often reminds me that if we look at the reach of our services based on population size, Manitoba and Ontario Community Health Centre networks may not be that different after all.

Dreamcatcher shared at the opening of the CACHC board meeting by Leading Eagle Man (CACHC Board Member)

Though AOHC and their 107 members are large enough to have a thriving and well-funded provincial body that can support this annual conference, the reality is that everything that I hear discussed, I’ve also heard at home in Manitoba.  We have the same struggles, the same goals and aspirations for a more equitable world, a belief that community health centres are a critical mechanism to help achieve that outcome.

In Lynne’s words, as well as those of several other inspiring voices from the conference, I am reminded that this is not an academic exercise.  We have a real opportunity, and an obligation to create safe spaces, and to challenge stigma, oppression, and injustice. To accomplish this, we need strong combined voices that are grounded in our communities.

Learn more about work on SIS in Toronto:

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