Walking for Women in Ghana - and for Women in Health Care
As the President and Chief Operating Officer for peopleCare Communities, Elaine Shantz has the opportunity every day to see how a simple idea can have a huge impact. When she decided to look for a unique way to support Growing Rural Opportunities for Women – Ghana (GROW), she had an idea to combine her love of trekking with a fundraising initiative. That one idea became Women Walking to GROW, which has raised more than $1 million for the program, generated awareness and support for the program, and created an initiative the entire peopleCare community could embrace.
Creating opportunity for women in Ghana
GROW, is a development program run by MEDA designed to provide sustainable food security to families in northern Ghana by helping women farmers grow more soybeans. The program has helped more than 20,000 families and has provided an opportunity for women to build successful businesses that have lifted their families out of poverty. The partnership with GROW began when peopleCare introduced their Beyond Ourselves program. The program encourages staff and even residents of their seven long term care facilities to look beyond what they do every day to strive to make an impact in the world.
Elaine felt an immediate affinity for the women farmers. “When I started my career, I worked to survive,” says Elaine. “I didn’t have plans to climb the corporate ladder, but I was given opportunities. These women also started with a goal for survival, and they have a much more difficult journey. The strength of these women stands out. Despite facing hardship outside of their control, they are ambitious and have taken the opportunity they’ve been given to build successful businesses.”
Walking to support women leaders – in Ghana and in health care
With the full support of peopleCare , Elaine decided to hike 893km of the Bruce Trail over the course of July 2017. She convinced her colleague, Miriam Turnbull from ProRESP Inc. to join her on the journey. Their initial goal was to raise $20,000 for GROW. To date, Elaine and Miriam have raised more than $123,000. Global Affairs Canada has made a 9 times match of those donations, making their efforts worth more than $1 million.
In addition to raising funds, Elaine wanted the trek to resonate with the women she works with in health care. She looked at the month long walk as a way to create opportunities to build women in leadership in health care.
“There are so many women in health care who work incredibly hard providing care for individuals who are at a vulnerable point in their lives,” says Elaine. “I wanted to do something that would inspire these women to pursue their dreams in their jobs. I wanted to demonstrate that even with the limitations we face in health care, we are leaders. We have the opportunity to be creative and innovative if we take a moment to look up from our work and see the bigger picture.”
Bringing the message home
As they trekked through the rain, heat, and a bountiful number of bugs, Elaine and Miriam remained closely connected with the residents in the peopleCare LTC facilities. Before the walk began, Elaine worked with the frontline team to look for ways to involve residents.
“Everything we do has to create an opportunity for our residents,” explains Elaine. “Our physio team and frontline staff saw a great opportunity to make the walk part of our restorative therapy program.”
A special walking course was set up in each of the homes. Residents walked as part of their therapy and, during the month of July, they racked up a total of 1190km. They also got involved by raising additional funds that will be used to send a special peopleCare team to Ghana to participate in GROW.
The residents played an important role in keeping Elaine and Miriam buoyed during difficult legs of their journey. On a particularly hot and muggy day when the bugs seemed to be at their peak, Elaine and Miriam received pictures from a resident who uses oxygen. His message of “We’re cheering for you!” had a strong impact on Elaine. “I stopped grumbling and thought how can I complain?” The residents from the Meaford LTC facility met the two women for lunch and cheered them on.
On the last 100km of the journey, a team of women from across senior living and health care joined Elaine and Miriam to help them complete their goal. Today, there are multiple teams from across health care who have created initiatives to support GROW.
“Miriam and I relied on each other to get through the walk. We knew we could draw on each other’s strength to carry on,” says Elaine. “Health care is a similar journey. If we partner and collaborate and contribute our strengths and accept the strengths of others, we can change the world.”