One of the world’s largest events about maternal mental illness

The more I get involved in postpartum and mental health issues, the more I see that there are lots of awareness-raising events about them (at least in Vancouver). After the interview with CBC, I was pleasantly surprised when I was contacted to join this year’s “Climb Out of the Darkness” events in British Columbia.

I supported the Vancouver event (Facebook page) and joined the walk organized by Kristen Walker, an instructor at the University of British Columbia, who decided to raise awareness about postpartum issues after the death of someone she knew and their family suffering from postpartum psychosis.

Kristen Walker being filmed by CBC welcoming participants of the Vancouver event
Kristen Walker being filmed by CBC welcoming participants of the Vancouver event

Climb Out of the Darkness is one of the world’s largest events raising awareness of maternal mental illness, like postpartum depression. It is held on or near the longest day of the year to shine the most light on this issue by getting people to join together to climb mountains and hike trails to symbolize the rise out of the darkness of maternal mental illness into the light of hope and recovery.

In addition to fundraising more than $3000 to support postpartum support services, the Vancouver event also brought together around forty people who braved the rain and cold to come out for the morning walk. It was also great to see CBC interviewing people and covering the event.

I'm just to the right of the white umbrella on the left side of the photo (Credit: Ciara McDaniel)
I’m just to the right of the white umbrella on the left side of the photo (Credit: Ciara McDaniel)

The turnout was great and it was nice to see that there was this grassroots support for postpartum issues. But definitely more is needed to raise awareness and get people to talk about and share their experiences. The statistics are too real to ignore.

Virtually all women can develop mental disorders during pregnancy and in the first year after deliver.

According to the World Health Organization, virtually all women can develop mental disorders during pregnancy and in the first year after deliver – about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression, and this is even higher for developing countries (15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth).

Despite the emphasis in society on the postpartum challenges and struggles women and mothers face, this is also an issue for men whether it’s suffering from similar depression or having to support their partners. More dads need to be involved and speak out about their experience.

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Lacing up for people with disabilities

This year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) was focused on how disasters affected people living with disabilities. As part of UNISDR’s Communications Unit, we’re responsible for defining the theme, messages, and getting people motivated to take part in the celebrations on 13 October. Even with this global focus, we normally organize something locally in Geneva since it’s where many of our partners and donors are located. I’ve been involved with IDDR since 2010 and we’ve always held a cocktail reception in Geneva where we invite representatives from the UN, permanent mission diplomats, etc. to come to listen to speeches and mingle. This year we wanted to do something different.

After some initial brainstorming, we had roughly a month to organize our local event in Geneva. We decided to organize an afternoon of basketball with UNISDR staff and members of the international community. While we (basically a few people who made up UNISDR’s staff association) were under a bit of pressure to pull it off, it was probably one of the most fun and interesting things we’ve done to promote UNISDR, the International Day, and to get staff involved in something other than sitting in front of their computers. It was also encouraging to see that such a simple idea brought so much energy and interest in the topic. Here’s a summary of this energy:

  • The International School of Geneva let us use their gym and provided most, if not all, of the equipment
  • With very short notice, the Public Transportation of Geneva allowed us to promote the event through throughout all the trams in the city
  • Staff members from UNISDR helped out from volunteering to be on the basketball team, promoting the event to others, printing t-shirts, making cakes and cookies, recruiting their spouses/partners to join the team, and MC’ing the day.
  • CERN, the Latino Carouage, and Les Aigles de Meyrin basketball teams came to show their support for IDDR

There’s probably a lot more things I’ve missed but it was great to see the dedication and commitment of people to help out in organizing the afternoon of basketball. One of the best messages from one of the players was “See you next year!”

Here I am breaking-down some defense…



October 13th is the International Day for Disaster Reduction

One of the things I’m doing at work is preparing for the International Day for Disaster Reduction on October 13th. This is the day when government, international organizations, and communities celebrate and promote reducing disasters. In most cases, “disasters” are labeled this way because it has an impact on human society. It’s kind of like saying, does a falling tree make a sound if no one is around to hear it? This is the thing with “disasters”, if there isn’t anyone around, can we still call it a disaster? For example, if the 2004 tsunami hit unpopulated areas, would it have been a “disaster” or would we have chalked it up to a natural and uncontrollable event (i.e. earthquake)?

So the International Day for Disaster Reduction is to have everyone recognized that there is something we can do about “disasters”. This year’s theme is to get cities, especially ones that are exposed to earthquakes, storms/hurricanes, floods, drought, and climate change, to prepare and plan better to reduce the affect of these physical and atmospheric hazards. There’s a big emphasis on improving land zoning policies and designing urban developments and plans that can improve disaster response or limit its impacts. If you want to know more about what’s happening for this Day, visit the UNISDR International Day for Disaster Reduction webpage. If you want to know more about what cities are planning to do about disasters, visit the Making Cities Resilient Campaign.

I’ve worked in both situations – before and after a disaster. Of course the aftermath brings in a lot of money and aid because of the shock and awe following a disaster. But if we really want to make a difference, money and aid should be put towards making sure that cities and communities are prepared and have plans in place to limit disaster damage (in deaths, injured, infrastructure destruction and economic collapse). It’s really exciting and a adrenaline rush to be helping after a disaster, providing humanitarian relief and aid. But at some point I’m wondering if we’re only applying a band-aid solution by focusing too much on the aftermath.

Anyway, here are some photos I’ve taken in the past couple of weeks representing Geneva’s skyline… luckily the weather has been cooperative.

FREE isn't forever.

A lot of new Canadian coins were introduced to commemorate the 2010 Olympics

Today was the last official day of the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics (and the free stuff events around the city). Vancouver has graciously received visitors from all over the world and the city has a few new ‘green’ buildings, a important transportation line/link, and progressive ideas for the future. From the Richmond Olympic Oval, the Canada Line, to reviving downtown with pedestrian friendly boulevards and cityscapes and the innovative Olympic Village, hopefully the changes to the city from the Olympics has improved things in the city for visitors and locals alike.

But there are still short and long-term issues that Vancouver faces pre and post Olympics (i.e. Vancouver still has lots of issues re: social housing, poverty, and crime/drugs, as well as native/aboriginal rights). If you don’t believe me, you can find the “other side of to Olympic coin” by reading the news and reports on a number of website including “Resist 2010” and “2010 Vancouver Olympic Protest Reporting“.

Personally I had a great time and was glad to have made it back to Vancouver for a bit of Olympics… The city of Vancouver is a progressive place with lots of things happening in the mainstream and at the periphery. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the city is a dynamic place full of passion not only embracing and inviting visitors to come and enjoy Canada’s westcoast lifestyle, but also igniting and leading the way for social justice.

Some photos from today’s walk downtown to soak up the Olympic atmosphere before it all gets taken down…

Never too late for photos…


Just got back to Vancouver a couple of days ago and was able to catch a little Olympic fever. Yes, I’m a couple of weeks too late for the main event, but the Paralympic Games will be starting soon.  I was in downtown Vancouver yesterday and even though weather wasn’t the greatest (i.e. rain, rain and more rain), the fever was building for the paralympics. After getting off the skytrain I was lucky enough to see the olympic torch pass by.  Here are some photos while I tried to chase down the torch.





Day 4 (#GISDay) – It's all about the data!

Timor-Leste Census 2010

More and more people keep attending the afternoon seminars… including today’s presentation by the National Statistics Directorate of Timor-Leste. One of the key things in this 10-year old country is to get a better understanding about its population and what are the challenges to its growth. Timor-Leste will be conducting its national census next year in July 2010.

GIS and mapping hand-outs

Interest is growing for the event, but it’s too bad that the event is only for one week. There needs to be more done in terms of getting the government, universities/schools, and the international community more aware of GIS and mapping and how everyone can benefit from it – hopefully all the material we have available will get around and get people interested. It’s all about collecting and analyzing data… poor data = poor analysis = poor planning/development… GIS and maps can help visualize this.

Day 3 (#GISDay) – Timor-Leste event is half-way through

UN GIS presentation

There’s 3 days left to With maps, we build the future of Timor-Leste at Casa Europa. I’ll try to get more pictures up of the different things that are going on for the week-long event. After three days, there’s been plenty of positive response from the event – a lot of people didn’t realize that there was so much mapping and GIS work going on in Tmor-Leste.


There was a presentation on Day 3 with the United Nations showcasing what GIS can do for society. It was informative and well-attended by both expats and Timorese. A lot of questions were asked regarding how the UN can be more supportive in training or raising awareness about GIS and its related technologies to help the Timorese people/government. The current mandate of the UNMIT GIS Unit is only to support the UN mission and agencies, but if there was a request for more outreach and training by the government or schools/universities, there might be some potential for this kind of activities.

Day 2 (#GISDay) – Kids, military, uni students come for a visit

Kids at GIS event

With maps, we build the future of Timor-Leste keeps going strong at Casa Europa. Day 2 was as popular as the first day. This time around there was a class field trip from the Dili International School who came for a visit – as you can see they were very interested in the 1:50000 floor map. Also, the military came to look around since they contributed a couple of 2+ meter long maps to the event. It’s great to see that the event is drawing people from all over.

Casa Europa

One of the highlights was the presentations in the afternoon which was mainly attended by Timorese… the first was given by a staff member at the Ministry of Agriculture. The surprising thing was that it was a women who really knew what she was talking about – collecting climate data from weather stations setup around the country. Given that Timor-Leste has its issues with Education, and the challenges for women to have a higher education, the sight of a very pregnant staff member presenting was a pleasant surprise.

ALGIS presentation

The second half of the presentation was given by our good friend Osorio, who is probably one of the only experts in remote sensing in the country – he knew his stuff! One idea that came up was to have more presentations like these in the academic setting to encourage Timorese to learn more about how GIS and maps can help their country develop – maybe a special lecture once a month at the university could be a good start!

Day 1 (#GISDay) – Success in Timor-Leste!

Coinciding with GIS Day, the first day of the GIS/mapping event in Timor-Leste (With maps, we build the future of Timor-Leste) was a success. Given this type of event is the first of its kind in the country, the opening day went smoothly… although there were some bumps along the way as I expected.

But overall the turnout was great… in the morning, we had lots of people out from the Geographic Information Group (GIG) showing their support. Even a group of women, like from “Sex and the City”, came around because they wanted to show their friend, who was celebrating her birthday, a good time and to visit the “new” exhibition at Casa Europa. The highlights of the day was a visit by the Deputy Special Rep. for the UN Secretary General (my boss) and the Deputy Head of the European Commission. Even the US Ambassador sneaked in for a peak, who when I asked how he knew about the event told me, “Well, you invited me!”

US Ambassador taking a look at the large floor map

Wedding in Santorini

In santorini

Just finishing up on our trip to Greece to attend my cousin’s wedding in Santorini…. I think I’ve had enough souvlaki, gyros, and greek salad for a life-time. The trip has had it’s ups and downs – the nauseous boat cruise, the historic Greek ruins, and the olive oil. But the highlight was definitely seeing my cousin get married overlooking a beautiful sunset on the volcanic island of Santorini… simply magnifique! If you want to check out the photos, John Edgar, the photographer, has already put some photos up on his blog. Here’s a taste…