By JANINE FERNANDES-HAYDEN
We, the staff and board of SWOVA, are deeply affected by the tragedy surrounding the Quesnel family. Our condolences go out to the three boys, the families and their friends.
“No Man is an Island,” writes John Donne, though it can feel this way, especially during our COVID times when we are unable to connect and experience the type of kinship that we are meant to; to share, ponder, rejoice together, to grieve together in deeply meaningful ways. We at SWOVA espouse healthy relationships, and yet, what does this mean for us in these times of social distancing, let alone as our community processes this horrible incident?
SWOVA works within the educational setting, with children and youth, to prevent violence in all forms. Our vision statement reads, “We envision inclusive and gender-equitable communities living violence-free.” It is hard for us as an organization not to feel deflated when we think of this tragedy. And yet, we must remember that a vision is where we hope to arrive and, when we have arrived, there will in fact be no need for the work of organizations such as Islanders Working Against Violence or Salt Spring Women Opposed to Violence and Abuse. Until then, there is work to be done. We are not there.
We live on an island that is special in many ways, but it is not idyllic. An idyllic island would be one that has reached that vision of a community living violence-free. In our work together, we need to face the realities of a community that is not idyllic, where domestic violence, as well as other forms of violence, including self-inflicted, are very real. And all forms are complicated by risk factors associated with addictions, mental illness and poverty.
To feel shock over the news of the past week is a hopeful sign and a step forward towards awakening to the realities facing our island. To feel numb means that there is a pain that needs to be dulled, one left by an underlying wound that we all share, one that needs to be aired out and nursed. Let’s not ignore nor dismiss those feelings.
The deaths of John and Jennifer Quesnel weaken us all. To come full circle in the words of Donne, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Let the bells that toll for all of us at this time not paralyze us with guilt and shame. Instead, let them call us to a humility, honesty and vulnerability that has us assess the health of our relationships, with ourselves and with others, and to consider the messages that we pass on to our younger generations.
Let us ask ourselves the question, “How are we doing, really?” At a time when we are impacted by acts of violence on a world stage, let us acknowledge the work that needs to be done in our own backyard.
• At SWOVA, we’ll continue moving towards our vision of communities living violence-free by offering programs for children and youth to give them the skills to create healthy relationships now and in the future. We do partner with other community organizations who are involved in directly addressing violence and crisis in our community. If you or someone who know needs help:
• IWAV provides anti-violence services: crisis line, outreach, counselling and Transition House, and supports and responds to women and families in our community.
• IWAV encourages women who are feeling unsafe and needing support to contact IWAV’s 24 hr crisis line at 250-537-0735 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information about IWAV’s services can be found at iwav.org.
• Youth and families can also seek support from Salt Spring Community Services. Counsellors are ready and available to meet with children, youth and families who would like support. They can access this by phoning Community Services’ Navigator at 778-353-4731. More information about counselling support is also available on the SSCS website: saltspringcommunityservices.ca.
• School counsellors are, as usual, available for students in need of emotional support.
• There are also many helpful resources through phone, chat, or text, for youth struggling emotionally, including:
• Kids Help Line, available 24-7, for students struggling with anything. 1-800-667-6868.
• Vancouver Island Crisis Line (24-7) 1-888-494-3888 for youth needing support.
The writer is executive director of the SWOVA Community Development and Research Society.