In the 35 years that I have lived in Canada, I have been most impressed by the citizens’ ability to transcend political differences to achieve shared goals and collective interests.
If we need a new hospital in our community, for example, we mobilize funds from the community and seek government inputs without worrying what party the prime mover of the effort belongs to.
In return, the provincial government assesses our request on the basis of need and affordability. How our community voted or who our local mayor is are irrelevant.
That is what my suburban community at the north end of the Greater Toronto Area did a few years ago. Our local hospital was in need of renovation and expansion to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing population.
Instead of renovations, we agreed to drastically expand the facility and transform it into a new regional health centre and teaching and research hospital.
The community embraced the project and raised hundreds of millions of dollars. The provincial government matched the millions that we raised, literally doubling our purse.
What was a small county hospital became Southlake Regional Health Centre, offering state-of-the-art maternal-child health programs, cardiac surgical services, a cancer institute, a child and adolescent psychiatry program, emergency services and other top tier health care programs. Our centre is considered one of the finest in this country.
We were able to accomplish this in less than 10 years because the community had its priorities right. The community leaders did not make political calculations or allow political differences to distract them from the big goal. The politicians from different parties worked together to solicit government funding for a project that they knew would serve all citizens.
It was fascinating to watch the extent to which some politicians went to avoid any appearance of impropriety or mixing politics with the community’s common effort.
Belinda Stronach, the daughter of one of Canada’s wealthiest men, was a federal parliamentary candidate for our constituency. She was aware that we had decided to build a regional cancer centre and the fundraising process had already begun.
She informed our hospital board and a hospital-wide committee that I was part of that she and her family would donate $8 million to the cancer centre. However, we were sworn to secrecy, not to reveal this until after the elections. She did not want anyone to think that she was attempting to use her wealth to influence the election. My respect for her and her family went up another notch.
Today, the Stronach Cancer Centre, which opened in 2010, serves patients of all political, religious and ethnic identities and stands as a testament to what a community, united by a shared vision, can accomplish.
It is this kind of attitude that drove a group of us to start the International Community of Banyakigezi (ICOB) in 2003. We believed that it was possible, necessary and urgent to bring all Banyakigezi together into a union that transcended politics, ethnicity, religion and such cleavages that had hindered our progress.
We were resolute in our determination to keep partisan politics out of ICOB, for we believed then, and still believe that the healthcare, education and economic needs of Banyakigezi cut across Uganda’s partisan politics.
Whereas the founding leaders of ICOB did not belong to one political party or group, they shared the common vision of a Kigezi community that would come together to give back to our younger generation through education. We would do things for God and our country. It is a non-partisan vision that we remain solidly committed to.
I am a great admirer of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which was started at a meeting of only 230 people who gathered in Geneva, Switzerland in August 1936. Today, the WJC has major affiliate organizations on every continent and in Israel itself. Its leaders and members support different political parties in Israel and other countries where they are organized. However, when it comes to the interests of the Jewish community, there is no doubt where their priorities are. Jewish interests supersede local partisan interests.
The mission of the WJC is “to foster the unity and represent the interests of the Jewish people, and to ensure the continuity and development of its religious, spiritual, cultural, and social heritage.”
The WJC works “to enhance solidarity among Jewish communities throughout the world and, recognizing the centrality of the State of Israel to contemporary Jewish identity, to strengthen the bonds of Jewish communities and Diaspora Jews with Israel.”
To accomplish its goals, the WJC strives “to cooperate with governments, nations, organizations, and individuals in the spirit of peace, freedom, equality and justice.”
This is a mode of operation that has been at the heart of ICOB since its inception, one from which we must not deviate. ICOB must continue to work with everyone, including the Uganda government and local governments in Kigezi to serve our people. The success of the WJC and many communities and organizations in Canada persuade us of the correctness of this view.
We hope to renew our collective commitment to this non-partisan approach when we gather in London, England later this month for the 2016 Annual Convention of ICOB.