A refugee’s story and his “guardian angel”

Muriel’s passing has not only shook my core but to those closest to her. This is particularly true for Quesney Buledi, and his family, who considered Muriel as their “guardian angel”. His public story of being an asylum-seeker and refugee in Thailand is well-known – less so is his more personal story of Muriel’s instrumental role in saving his life and the lives of his children. Muriel and I worked in the background to do what we could to help and never wanted to be in the spotlight. So I was very moved to read Quesney’s tribute in the January 2016 newsletter from the White Rose Group who helped him and his family settle in Canada.


This is Quesney’s tribute to Muriel in his own words.

It’s very difficult to believe that someone so special, so kind and almost perfect is no longer here to start that chat on the web or to send that text message.

I came to know Muriel soon after I arrived in Bangkok in February 2008. I arrived with nothing but a few clothes. I was destroyed – I had suffered unspeakable abuses and had no hope I could reconstitute my life. I was in the country illegally, without a passport or a visa. Like other asylum seekers, I had no rights and under the constant threat of arrest. What little money I had was gone in two days. With nowhere to sleep I sought shelter in a mosque.

I found my way from one agency to another until I met Ms Ali Collier at the Bangkok Refugee Centre (BRC). Ali realised I spoke French and introduced me to Muriel. Her smile met mine and we started to talk as if we knew each other for ages. Muriel quickly restored my lost hope. Finally, after more than four years of darkness there was a light! Someone cared and would help me. Through Muriel I met many others at Asylum Access Thailand who have remained good friends. Muriel helped me find a safe place to stay, even paying for my first rent. However, my status made it difficult to find work. Finally Muriel was successful in securing a volunteer teaching position for me and over the course of the next six years I helped many refugee children and adults maintain and improve their educational skills.

Muriel introduced me to her then fiancé Vincent Fung and he and I became very good friends. I had two people that cared for me and I considered them my new family. They introduced me to the modern world, made sure I had a safe place to stay, food to eat and activities to do. This kept my morale high. They took me to cinemas, to evening “get-togethers”, shopping malls and bought me new clothes.

They introduced me to new people who would be friends. I could never have dreamed these people would open the doors to freedom for my children and me. I now had people around me with whom I could share my pains and sorrows, people who vigorously fought for my happiness and my freedom.

When Muriel and Vincent left Thailand they ensured I was living in a secure area and that all my basic needs were met. I cannot forget that night. Vincent handed me an envelope with enough money to cover all my needs for months. I could hardly comprehend their kindness. It was difficult to say good-bye but we kept in touch through e-mail and on-line chats. She always wanted to know that I was well and safe. She sent books for me to read, she suggested movies to watch, music to listen to, she asked her friends in Bangkok to take me out, she sent others from abroad with gifts. Whenever Muriel and Vincent came back to visit Bangkok, I was always first to greet them.

Muriel helped me focus on my future rather than my past and present. It was impossible for me to study in Thailand without my papers and she knew I wanted to go back to school. To my astonishment, she paid my tuition for law school. I completed the 3-year program and became a lawyer all because of Muriel. What an angel she was!

I had been separated from my children for more than six years and could not even expect they were still alive. When they were located in 2010 and we were reunited in Bangkok, Muriel and Vincent came to welcome them. They encouraged the children and helped them to focus on the future by providing them with so many new experiences. Muriel’s confidence that we would all have a bright future never wavered.

In 2012, security became a concern throughout the refugee community in Bangkok and many people were arrested. Once again it was Muriel who took action to ensure we escaped arrest. With the help of her friend we moved to a house in a middle class neighbourhood. She reasoned that the authorities would overlook us if we weren’t living like refugees. Muriel and Vincent paid for the house until we were resettled to Canada.

Muriel and Vincent came to see us again in Bangkok in November 2013. We had wonderful time together and when it came time to say goodbye Didier, Lauraine and I could not stop the tears from flowing. Muriel hugged us and cried. We could not know it would be our very last time together.

Muriel always wanted us to be free. Today, through the efforts of Muriel, Vincent and other friends I came to know through them, we are free. When I look back over the past eight years, I can’t imagine what my life would have been if I hadn’t met Muriel. Thanks to her, I am a resident of Canada, I am working, and furthering my studies. My children are free and happy; they are going to school and see a bright future. I feel so blessed.

In our last video call, Muriel and I went through the events of past and present. She said: “I am so happy you have your life back. I am so proud of you my brother.”

Muriel and I had many dreams and it is sad she won’t be here to see them realized. We dreamed of starting schools that would educate girls in Africa, we had my books to publish, a movie of my life story to be shared with the rest of the world…

She wanted her daughter Thea to be a happy girl and wished that Didier and Lauraine could be Thea’s godparents. Muriel and Vincent had planned to visit us in Canada, introduce Thea to us, and celebrate our freedom. Mother Nature decided otherwise.

I miss Muriel very much. I will do everything I can to ensure Thea understands the great woman her mother was.

The Muriel Lauvige Foundation will be created in her memory. This nonprofit organization will pursue Muriel’s vision of educating vulnerable women and girls. I trust Muriel is happy that we will carry on her dream.

Quesney Buledi


An interview with CBC Radio about Postpartum Depression

Like every postpartum depression story, Muriel’s one is unique and deeply personal. It isn’t black and white or clear-cut because many factors and triggers make it different for everyone going through it. I’m glad that CBC Radio invited me to share a part of her story and our experience… While what Muriel (and I) went through was very different from who she was and the outcome isn’t what anyone expected, I’m glad that part of her story can be told and I hope that it can make a difference for both moms and dads.

**A web article and the interview can also be found on CBC’s Website.**

The interview highlighted some of our struggles. Here are few other things that we went through as a family and that some of the callers also brought up:

  • It felt like riding an emotional roller-coaster which was both draining and tiring.
  • The feeling of helplessness for not knowing what else to do and the frustration for being unable to see the end of the illness was very real.
  • Muriel reached out to friends, family, psychologists, and the hospital for help. Despite trying to find other ways to address her depression, anxiety, and struggles, we were at the mercy of doctors and the healthcare system because we thought they had the answers.
  • As Muriel’s condition deteriorated she became more recluse, but we also felt more isolated because of the stigma around postpartum depression (PPD) and the lack of understanding to address it and how to reach out to Muriel.

The on-air portion on the interview was only five minutes, but Gloria Macarenko and I talked a bit about what more could be done.

  • For one thing, it’s important for both moms and dads, as well as people in the support network, to realize that “it’s ok to not be ok”. There’s too much pressure, from society and between moms and parents, to be “good parents” or to do everything “right” (ex. breastfeeding).
  • Society must realize that it’s not only the person directly suffering from postpartum depression, but also their partner and child(ren) and they also need the support.
  • A mother’s physical and mental well-being is as important (maybe even more?) as a baby’s well-being.
  • Treatment for postpartum depression should include a mix of medication and therapy, including being in a supportive and appropriate environment for PPD-sufferers and babies, and communication between the medical team and families to understand the history, character and coping mechanisms of moms (and dads) who are suffering. There is no one-size fits all solution.
  • It’s important that soon-to-be new parents are aware of the possibility of postpartum depression and the causes and reasons for it. This includes changes in hormones, social pressures and expectations, and the ability for parents to cope with anxiety issues, lack of sleep, and the stresses associated with parenting. If there are pre-natal classes, why aren’t there post-natal ones?

Love is beyond words.

When writing my wife’s tribute, one of the hardest things to do is to figure out what to include or not include. Despite the best attempts, writing cannot capture everything, like the details of her determination, her presence and personality, quirky qualities or just the feeling of being by her side.

A person and a feeling can be described, it can be dissected, and it can be projected… but it can’t be fully understood using words. Even though this is true, I still wanted to put together my ‘hommage’ to Muriel.

Thankfully I had help and it started out as a group effort from friends and family who wanted to include a tribute in her hometown magazine last September. This gave me something to work with by translating it into English and then expanding on it with more personal touches which included videos and links I could find online.

Muriel’s tribute is a snapshot of the wonder and strength known to her friends, family, and the people who were fortunate enough to meet her. It includes things that makes me laugh and cry and reminds me of who she was: an amazing and beautiful soul and the love of my life.

Read the tribute here:
http://www.vincentfung.ca/blog/muriel-mon-amour

Helping a Congolese family

Two years ago, we met our dear friend Quesney who was still in Bangkok with his children after five years in limbo trying to be recognized as refugees. We had a meal together and reminisced about our time together in Thailand, the years we kept in touch since we left the country, and what they thought about becoming Canadian citizens.

His journey and story is a complicated yet inspiring one that started long before 2008 when I first met him. In early 2008, after being introduced to my wife, who welcomed him as a fellow French speaker and gave him a purpose while she managed the education department at the Bangkok Refugee Centre, Quesney fought to get him and his children recognized as refugees – people are considered “asylum seekers” before they are officially recognized as a refugee by the United Nations – fending for themselves and trying to live a ‘normal’ life while keeping a low profile.

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Rejected by the UN to be recognized as refugees in their first few years in Bangkok, Quesney and his children sought help and support outside of the typical channels. While we had left Thailand in 2008, we continued to support Quesney by helping him find a safe place to live, helping his children to go to school, connecting him with friends who were in Bangkok, and finally finding a way to get him resettled in another country as a refugee. Ironically, this help came from Canada.

In 2014, seven years after Muriel took Quesney in, Quesney and his two children landed in Winnipeg – their new home as new Canadians. We were so happy and proud of them. I continue to be amazed by their persistence and hope for a better life.

What is Miriam currently wearing?

One day I got a phone call from a former workmate asking if I’d be interested in taking photos for her fashion blog. I was kind of blown away because most of my photography had been just a personal hobby and passion. Of course I tried to do something more with it a couple of years ago with my 2013 photo project and book without thinking too much about where it would go – it was just fun to do! While I’ve only sold a couple of books (so far), what was more rewarding was to realize that by getting other people involved with project encouraged someone else to follow their passion.

Miriam, one of the models in the November theme, started her fashion blog called ‘Currently Wearing – Chic with a positive attitude‘ which has been hugely popular within the Swiss fashion world and she even has a large and dedicated following on Instagram.

This ethical outfit now on Currently Wearing (direct link in bio). Hat and jumpsuit via @amafillech

A photo posted by Miri Ramp (@currently_wearing) on

While most of my photo gear is a mix of digital and film rangefinders and SLRs, I was glad to test out Miriam and her husband’s gear (the regular photographer) even if it was only for 15 minutes. I don’t own a Nikon so it was a pleasure to shoot with their Nikon D3200 and especially fun was taking the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1-1.8G lens for a spin. I used my favorite shooting mode on these DSLRs which is Aperature Priority where I can choose my aperture setting (blurry backgrounds anyone?) while the camera picks up on the shutter speed.

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If you’re interested in mix high-street fashion with luxury and vintage accessories from Swiss and African designers that’s unique, or as Miriam calls it “Afropean”, check out http://currentlywearing.com/.

The characteristics of a ‘design thinker’

I normally see lots of emails asking to “beautify” things at work. It’s one of the biggest insults to designers, a profession that looks to not only make things aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately functional and useful whether it’s in technology or communication. It’s a discipline that spans all areas because at its essence is not so much tools or platforms, but a strategic way of thinking that creates value. Back in 2008, Tim Brown, the CEO and President of IDEO and author of the blog ‘Design Thinking’, wrote a detailed article in the Harvard Business Review of how the thinking that goes into designing products or things can actually be used for all sorts of industries.

Simply put, design thinking is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity… Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process.

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The October 2014 issue of Wired magazine was all about design and editor Scott Dadich’s fascination and interest in design and the way design thinking can be used for innovation while making mistakes along the way, or what he considers “Wrong Theory“. While designers are often known or asked to ‘make things pretty’, it’s this process of making something pretty that holds the most value – the insight that comes from this process is what gets designers to take notice of what works and doesn’t work. But in order to do this, as Dadich writes, “You need to know the rules, really master their nuance and application, before you can break them.” By getting things wrong or off-balanced, a designer’s perspective of a challenge or problem helps him/her learn how imperfection can lead to perfection.

Designers touch and shape every single part of your day; they are a constant presence in your life. Your smartphone, glasses, activity tracker – someone made them, worrying over the details that turned those things into indispensable companions.

Lucky to be working with Sarah (http://sarahroxas.ch), a talented designer who really loves her work!
Lucky to be working with Sarah Roxas, a talented designer who really loves her work!

I’ve found that sometimes the best ideas and thinking comes from people who don’t consider themselves designers. Again, thinking design isn’t so much a thing as much as a way of seeing a problem and finding a solution. So what does a “design thinker” look like? In his Harvard Business Review article, Brown highlights five characteristics to look for in a design thinker:

  1. Empathy. They can imagine the world from multiple perspectives—those of colleagues, clients, end users, and customers (current and prospective). By taking a “people first” approach, design thinkers can imagine solutions that are inherently desirable and meet explicit or latent needs. Great design thinkers observe the world in minute detail. They notice things that others do not and use their insights to inspire innovation.
  2. Integrative thinking. They not only rely on analytical processes (those that produce either/or choices) but also exhibit the ability to see all of the salient—and sometimes contradictory—aspects of a confounding problem and create novel solutions that go beyond and dramatically improve on existing alternatives.
  3. Optimism. They assume that no matter how challenging the constraints of a given problem, at least one potential solution is better than the existing alternatives.
  4. Experimentalism. Significant innovations don’t come from incremental tweaks. Design thinkers pose questions and explore constraints in creative ways that proceed in entirely new directions.
  5. Collaboration. The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborator. The best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines; many of them have significant experience in more than one.

OCHA hosts UN Designers Group in Geneva

A few months back, I wrote about how Geneva is a melting pot of communication professionals with plenty of active groups meeting to exchange ideas, challenges, and solutions to a constantly evolving field of work. I’m proud that ITU brought together the UN (graphic) designers group late last year with an inaugural meeting in November. Among the UN participants, it seemed that OCHA was ahead of the curve in integrating design into their work and so we were asked to host the second meeting. In May, we were finally able to get our butts in gear to host the meeting. While the first meeting was informal and over lunch, this time around lunch was still on the table, but we also wanted to put a little bit more structure and decided to focus on a key element of how design is used in OCHA’s work, particularly in times of emergencies. This usually means turning lots and lots of data and information from natural or complex disasters into easily accessible and understandable formats that can be used for advocacy, awareness-raising, planning and decision-making.

UNdesignerslunch_May20

We explained how design is integrated into the humanitarian response process and how more and more visual design and communication is becoming an area in which other technicians (i.e. information managers and communication generalists) need to understand and be involved in despite the lack of knowledge and know-how. The basic idea is that there’s now so much information that comes through in times of disasters and emergency, it’s hard to make sense of it all and for it to tell a story that can help people understand the severity of the situation or to use this information to make the best decisions possible.

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Not only is timing, data-reliability and access a challenge, but so is the issue of standardization and consistency. This means being able to do quick designs based on templates and standards because different people get involve in the design process at difference times during an emergency. But this also has an impact on the branding and consistent communication by the organization. One of the main challenges is to ensure that products meet a certain standard to ensure that an organization’s ‘brand’ is upheld and that people can trust the source of information because, in addition to the quality of the content, the visual identity and look/feel is also what provides value to the reader/user.

Thanks to the OCHA team for a great presentation, and to all the ones who attended the second lunch / meeting!

Posted by UN Geneva Graphic Design Community on Friday, May 22, 2015

There’s also always the constant challenge of “making things pretty”, which is what most people think of designers in this field, vs. “making things useful” – why would you take a 20-page document and turn it into something “pretty” only to have people read it… does that mean if it wasn’t pretty then people wouldn’t read it – what does that say about the document? An interesting discussion point around this was the fact that designers are always asked to help on ‘formatting’ which is actually different for ‘designing’ something. If you’re interested on the influence design (not formatting) has on our lives, “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman is a must read…

There is no need to sacrifice beauty for usability or, for that matter, usability for beauty.

The most interesting part of the meeting was still over lunch where we talked about how people got into design (a lot of people didn’t come strictly from a design education), the challenges/stigma designers face in and outside of the office, and how visual communication is now part of ‘mainstream’ communication and what that means for designers. Like the Facebook page to get info on the next meeting and to stay in touch with the group and get news about design stuff.

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Food+Music can make anyone happy

It might be hard work but there isn’t really a down side to food. We all need it. We all have our own tastes. We can love or hate making and eating whatever we cook. It induces memories and is a visual feast that triggers other senses and emotions.

While food tickles our sense of smell, sight, and touch/taste, when music comes into the mix to trigger our ears and body, it’s a double whammy. It’s no wonder food+music can make anyone happy and transcends cultures. I watched a couple of movies recently that does just that.

Written, directed, and starring Jon Favreau (remember Swingers?), Chef is about a chef who loses his restaurant job and starts up a food truck to express his creativity and love for food while trying to connect with his son. It’s a light-hearted and easy-going film with plenty of eye-watering culinary images and lots of body-moving songs. There’s also a big push for Twitter… is this the new way for product placement – to blatantly talk about a brand and use it as the basis for the plot? Favreau might end up being the next Woody Allen because he practically does everything and at the same time includes plenty of well-known actors who all seem to have fun on the film. .. Check out the trailer below.

The other movie is based on a book called The Hundred-Foot Journey about the Kadam family who leaves India for France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory’s Michelin-starred eatery. Another light-hearted film that puts the love of food in the spotlight. Since it’s based on a book, there’s plenty of stuff that doesn’t make it into the movie, but it does make a clear case that there isn’t a hierarchy when it comes to culinary arts – it’s about passion, the love of discovering new tastes and figuring out what people like or don’t like… and it has dashes of Bollywood dancing and music.

Back in October 2013, I tried to take a photo of every meal I ate at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a visual feast, but probably one I wouldn’t want to repeat. The results weren’t very appetizing – click on each photo to see all the meals.

Animated gifs are more expressive than static images

Photography is a lot of fun especially now when we have so many options to capture images whether its with a phone, camera, laptop, etc. Once in a while it does get a bit monotonous especially when I’m bored of taking static images. So I’ve been experimenting with creating animated gifs. It’s not all that new, but it is a lot of fun to bring a bunch of images to life.

While I’ve tried this with only a couple of images after a visit to the Olympic museum, I thought I’d give it a try with a lot more images after a photo shoot at work. This time each of the below animations contain approximately 60 images. The trick with an animated gif is that the more the images, the larger the file size so I’ve kept the gif small to reduce the loading/downloading time. Every image has it’s own distinct character, but when shown in a series they express more than just one image and gives a sense of time…

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The whole process is really easy to do with Photoshop and the best instructions I’ve found to do it is here: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/how-to-make-an-animated-gif/