Monday, November 29, 2010


It used to be that the phrase, “a person of character”, inherently meant “good” character. As we look at more than a decade where our politicians, business leaders, sports stars and celebrities have drained the previous positive inference, out of the word character, a ray of hope is emerging ... from our high schools.

It is one thing to employ a tag-line or slogan that includes the idea of building character in our students of today, it is another to build and implement programs that both teach our children and put into practice the principles held forth.

Meadowvale High School and West Credit High School in Mississauga are achieving integrity in implementing such a vision, by partnering with several vendors in the city and with FTC Canada. Together we are building bunk beds to send to First Nations communities north of Sioux Lookout, where conditions for families are deficient.

According to the 2007 Child Health Summit, "Living conditions for First Nations people rank 63rd in the world - comparable with developing countries - and one of the root causes of poor health in these communities."

A lack of proper sleep for children is detrimental to their development and health. Changes in sleeping habits can impair a child’s learning, memory and ability to concentrate. To try and address the problem of a serious shortage of adequate beds, FTC Canada has developed the First Nations Bunk Bed Program.  

This Christmas is the launch of a three-year program that FTC Canada has initiated with the support of major corporate partner, Vale.  The goal is to deliver at least 100 beds a year for three years to several First Nations communities.

“Our hope is to provide proper sleeping spaces for at least 600 children in these communities”, said FTC Canada’s First Nations Coordinator Karen Ward.

We have the support of many people, however, more beds need to be built, bedding and other supplies are still required and the product needs to be delivered to the Far North. We invite you to be a part of this vital project

Please CLICK HERE to help now!

Friday, November 26, 2010


It is not always possible to obtain video footage of the work we do with our partners, amateur or otherwise.

Over the last several years we have shipped tens of thousands of meals to our partner World Mission Outreach in Nicaragua. One of our donation partners involved in supporting that cause is the Ontario Christian Gleaners.

Here are some images that a volunteer has provided in thanks of the work that we have been able to facilitate with our Canadian partners feeding children in Nicaragua.

Cliff Cline
Vice President - Chief Operating Officer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Unisync Canada President Carmin Garofalo talks to FTC Canada VP-COO Cliff Cline about the partnership that was formed and ultimately galvanized by the disaster in Haiti.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Love From Guatemala

Medical Team In Action

Everyday in Guatemala put the Medical Team into a school room.  Schools or churches with classrooms are generally made available for us to use, and if they are not free that day, school children are given the day off like they were in Palencia.

The medical portion of the team this week was made up of 6 doctors, one paramedic and two nurses (two other nurses were on the team, one in dental and one handing out glasses).  They would split into groups of 4 each day, meeting up with their Guatemalan interpreters.  Set-up for the "doctor's office" required a chair for interpreter and "doc", chairs for patients, tables for various medical tools and then it was off to work.

You can see that it also became a small operating theater near the end of this video.  Dr. Muhn removed some non-dissolving stitches from a woman's C-section as they were creating a reoccurring infection in her abdomen.

Day 5: Heartbreak in El Morlon

“My heart’s just breaking.” the doctor said to me, tears accompanying her obvious anguish.

A little 9 year old boy had been brought to the clinic today here in El Morlon by his aunts. They were deeply concerned. He had not been eating enough and was vomiting, something was clearly wrong.

Paola and Daniele
As Dr. Sasha High and her interpreter Paola spoke to the boy he began to tell a story that was no doubt the source of his sickness. A year ago his parents left him to go to the US and they have not been heard from since. His parents left him behind.

What do you do with this emotion? How do you treat it? Can you prescribe a pill, some sort of medicine that will make it go away? I think you know the answer.

Dr. Sasha and Paola could only listen like they have never listened before. The cried with Daniele and held him hard in their arms. In this midst of all this there was a sickening realization that that he had not only been abandoned by his parents, but there was a distinct possibility he may never see them again.

Dr. Sasha with Daniele
In the exchange of tears, Daniele told his care givers that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. With a sense of urgency and love they told him that he was very special and that they loved him very much.

With each word came more heartbreak.

Outside there are hundreds of families that I can hear talking and laughing. If I look out the window I see beautiful, idyllic country, a lake in the distance, mountains and blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. If I pretended for a moment, maybe close my eyes ... I could be in a cozy villa or seaside resort. I’m not at one of those places. I’m in the middle of heartbreak.

Dental Team In Action

The Dental Team is a group of consumate pros!  On these Medical Teams they work hard for long hours often confined to very limited spaces.  While this may seem problematic, but the spirit of unity among the groups is palatable and the closer they get the better it is for doctor and patient alike!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Week In Guatemala: The Tough Cases

Dr. Jason (left), Dr. Mke (right)
The following are summaries to illustrate patient cases where additional care is recommended. Generally these recommendations come through extensive consultation, first by doctors, then by FTC Canada and FTC Guatemala staff.

The consultation by doctors usually indicates that a case is more serious and that further arrangements should be made for medical stays or prescribed interventions.

FTC Canada and FTC Guatemala make arrangements, first to ensure payment can be made for further treatments and then to work out transportation and other logistics.

These summaries are in no way meant to be proper medical assessments. They are a combination of this bloggers notes with some input from doctors and others present at the time.
There was a fairly young man needing a MRI because of unexplained numbness on the right side of his face. Dr Jason Lazarou (Neurology expert) ran a series of tests to try and isolate any neurological problems but could not make a diagnosis without the additional testing.

A woman came to the clinic with a complaint of a mass on her breast. Dr. Mike Gilmour attempted to drain fluids from the area but was unsuccessful. FTC Guatemala has arranged for her to go to hospital for further testing.

Earlier in the week a young man with blindness in one eye was presented to Dr. Jason. His vision in the one eye had been lost within the last month. He also presented with lower motor neuron seventh cranial nerve palsy (likely formed within past 3 days). A series of tests – very expensive tests – would normally be ordered for a patient presenting these symptoms. At the very least, a MRI, lumbar puncture, blood tests (for syphilis – amongst other things) and a chest x-ray. This, according to Dr. Jason is perhaps a minimum series of tests required.

Dr. Mike consults with Dr. Channy
A little girl came into the clinic with severe burns to her hands and arms, face and scalp. She had been left in her home alone several years before, when a house fire developed. The results of the fire were devastating. Her hands were essentially melted, muscles and bones both. Dr. Channy Muhn attended to her and really wants to ensure her long-term care. Initially this will involve sending special materials from Canada to Central America. These will be used immediately to insure some restoration to skin. This is a very complex case that appears not only FTC Canada and Guatemala are committed to, but Dr. Channy seems willing to pursue in order to restore some use to the young girls hands.

A middle-aged woman named Elena came to the clinic in the afternoon on Day 5. She presented with a large tumour in her breast. A suspected breast cancer requires biopsy. Dr. Sasha High thinks that it is most likely cancerous but the biopsy will confirm this assessment.
The team at FTC Guatemala takes these more severe cases into their care. They will ensure hospital visits are arranged and follow-up care provided. The resources of FTC Guatemala are non-existent and the care can only be funded through FTC Canada.
Dr. Tony Brown treats a Guatemalan family

Day Four: Dr. Brown Recap

Dr. Anthony Brown or Dr. Tony is the FTC Canada Medical Team Advisor and provides key leadership to the entire medical team.  This includes advance trips into each country we visit as well as working with FTC Canada President Ken Dick to select the team members.

This short video is a recap of the past few days and a quick starter for Day 4. 

Day Four: Team Impact In San Francisco Sales

As the FTC Canada Medical Team opens up for a new day, there is a transformation of sorts. Small school rooms become home for teams of doctors working right alongside each other. Pharmacy sets up a wall of blue boxes holding creams and pills. Dental has already been on site an hour before we have arrived. Their “home” today is a very small school room adjacent to a demolished school hall. The hall was destroyed by a hail of volcanic ash and rock.

San Francisco Sales is just under the rim of an active volcano. The last active eruption left a thick layer of black ash everywhere. Some buildings were pelted with hot rock that simply seared its way through metal roofs. As I noted, entire buildings were destroyed by more accurate missiles launched from above.

Perhaps it is odd, but FTC Canada shipped a large quantity of high-quality boots and shoes to Gu. The boots, in particular, are a true asset for the men and women that make their living in the fields or need to travel long distances across dusty roads – and when they aren’t dusty they are muddy.

Distribution is in a very small room today – virtually a hole in the wall. In this room Janice and her team organize a vast array of great products. There are shoes and sandals, pants and shorts, shirts and winter jackets. In addition to this there are toys and really cute knitted dolls that were made by a knitting club in Cambridge, ON. Then there is very healthy food products in particular a bag of soup mix from the Gleaners. This soup bag can make 30 bowls of delicious soup.

Like Pharmacy, Distribution experiences an out-pouring of gratefulness from the people here. They may already have a bag full of pharmaceuticals, now they are about to get an abundance of supplies. As one boy looked longingly at his new soccer ball, a few of us commented that it was a lot like Christmas.

There is little access to medical care in this community. Young and old are making their way through the clinic. Some are hoping for a caring doctor to help them feel better. They get that, as caring doctors are all we have and pharmacy has a tremendous supply of medicines.

They get unexpected care perhaps through a new set of reading glasses; they get a surprise with access to great products at distribution. Even more surprising are the transformations in dentistry.

Today I filmed a complete tooth reconstruction – actually two front teeth. The young girl had what amounted to a bullet-hole size section of missing tooth material! I watched as the area was prepped drilled back to the point that there was virtually nothing left (removing excess rot). Dr. Jack Cottrell then performed a root canal, created a base for the new teeth to be reconstructed. Think rebar and concrete as it appeared to be like that.

What happened next was nothing short of spectacular. This young girl’s smile was transformed from a rotting hole, to something she would be proud of; she would look in the mirror and see a very beautiful set of teeth that would complement her pretty face. She would be very proud; Dr Jack was already on to the next patient (long line-ups) perhaps getting prepared to transform yet another smile.

Dr. Rick Caldwell talks with assistant Iris Renderos

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day Three: Meet The Mayor

Day Three: Palencia

Today we all met the Mayor. Mayor Beto is the the mayor of Palencia, and a key political figure among mayoral leadership in Guatemala.

FTC Canada President Ken Dick, met Mayor Beto several years ago. At the time, a relationship was forged as the mayor put up seed money for a new school and Ken agreed to support the project. The school was eventually constructed (in a remote area of the region) and Ken was joyfully welcomed back by all the young students in a beautiful ceremony featuring generous portions of red and white.

In the city centre of Palencia is a large school complex where we set up the clinic. With this type of easy access, it was no surprise to see a line-up. This line would persist throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

Dr. Channy Muhn
While we are in the process of introductions, let me also introduce you to the two doctors I am following as part of the development of a mini documentary. Dr. Channy Muhn, is a veteran – as it turns out being a veteran only means you need to have been on more than one team. Dr. Muhn is a dermatologist; a skin specialist extraordinaire.

Dr. Muhn is a funny guy. His light-hearted approach to his work brings smiles to colleagues and puts his patients very much at ease. While each doctor on the team is charged with providing primary care Dr. Muhn is constantly consulted for his expertise in skin diseases. Dr. Muhn is also an excellent teacher. He expects his peers to listen and learn, and because he is so clear they can easily understand his explanations. The result is a growing team of skin specialists!

Dr. Sasha High is an FTC Canada Medical Team rookie. She is a third year resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto and soon to be Chief Resident in her fourth year. When you first meet Dr. Sasha, you may feel an immediate sense of peace. She is clearly a rare spirit, and blessed with many gifts.

If I were a patient, with my head bowed low, carrying a burden of poor health and I looked up to see Dr. Sasha here’s what I think I would feel. I think I would feel like I was in the presence of an angel. I would feel immediately at peace. I would feel like this doctor was going to be genuinely interested in my concerns and not just my health concerns.

These two doctors are remarkable people. This whole team is remarkable and I can’t help but get a bit teary, even now, as I consider the good work they are so invested in here: heart, mind and soul.

FTC Canada

Day Three: On Palencia

From Ken Dick, President, FTC Canada

It’s our third clinic day and we are now in the town of Palencia. We are not surprised at the numbers of people that we see in line, but we were a bit worried. In El Patrocinio, our arrival was met by a mere dozen people. People did continue to arrive and within the hour the line had grown to 150 patients. And they kept coming. At the end of the day nearly 1000 patients had been treated, nearly 150 being dental patients.

I am reminded of the school FTC Canada built in the region of Palencia two years ago. Mayor Beto is very pleased that we have returned with our medical and dental professionals.

We were greeted warmly by the community here and went to work as soon as we could in the morning. There are several new people on the team but that has not been a problem in any way. In fact on this our third day working together, there is a strong spirit of camaraderie. We are working together with the common goal of providing the most excellent primary medical and dental care we can.

Our blog will report on today’s activities. As I write this, I know it will tell you about the hundreds of happy people in Palencia who visited our clinic, received treatment and left with food, clothing and medicines. We are so grateful for the opporunity to be here.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Video: The End Of Day Two (Fun On The Bus)

As we left El Patrocinio we were blessed with a down hill ride off the volcano and into the sunset.  As we made our way back into Guatemala - very quickly I might add - one of the buses got out of the cue!

Internet In Guatemala

We have had two days in a row with very limited internet access in the place we are staying. As a result, anyone relying on that for communications has had to wait for that "Wi-Fi window" to open. Cell phone users strictly dedicated to Wi-Fi have suffered the same fate.

Cell phone users in Canada likely know that they pay more for that luxury than anywhere else on the planet. In Guatemala, a cell phone and a phone plan are very inexpensive. It is not unusual to see people you don't normally expect to have a phone, carrying one here.

There are no land lines in the places we are going so having a cell phone is the one to "connect". Phone companies know this and almost give the phones away. It is actually possible to have a phone, with a SIM card but have no cell phone plan. With this you can take unlimited incoming calls. The phone companies know that eventually, someone has to pay to send a call.

I asked little children to identify my iPhone. None of them seemed to recognize it as an iPhone but they all could tell me it was a cell phone. All that to say, that the cell phone is ubiquitous and here is a late video submission from Day One in Las Trojes!

Day Two: El Patrocinio, Pacaya

Pharmacy is anything but the end of the line. In fact, it is the start of well being, continued peace of mind and a chance to heal. Chris knows this and is proud of the work the pharmacy team does.

Chris Ritskes
Chris Ritskes is the Chief Pharmacist for Lakeridge Health Port Perry. In Guatemala, Chris and his wife Krista are part of the team providing medicines and vitamins to the families in El Patrocinio. Chris is a veteran, having been a part of all the FTC Canada Medical Teams. I have fond memories of watching his tall frame manage the very first clinic we set up in Honduras.

The small truck that had been parked in the living room was moved out to accommodate the pharmacy.  We moved all the boxes in across two or three tables.   Then we moved Chris and the team in.  Every time he crossed from one side of the small room to the other, he had to be conscious of the rapidly sloping roof. Somehow he managed to keep his head bump free despite his 6’ 5” frame.

Michelle and Jack
Dr. Jack Cottrell and his wife, Michelle, have been part of the teams since OCT 08. The team to Nicaragua was the first to include dental. This was a major accomplishment since taking equipment into a mobile clinic can easily done; taking what amounts to an entire dental clinic is quite another thing.

Each day a truck load of equipment makes its way to the next location. Besides the obvious things, like dental tools, all the sterilizing equipment, chairs, lights, cleaning tools, drills, and the list goes on, need to be dropped at the next clinic.

Dr. Jack was reminding me today that one of the major things that can be done in this type of dentistry is to restore self-esteem. Men and women are very conscious of cavities that form in between the front teeth. If allowed to progress, it causes the teeth to go black and they can obviously decay to the point of falling out. That later option, while unpleasant, is a common result of never seeing a dentist.



Two women were in the clinic at the same time lying in chairs across the room from each other. One was 39 and the other was 47. Do some quick math and you find that is 86 years. That collectively, was the number of years they had gone without seeing a dentist ... ever! The younger was suffering advanced gum disease and her front teeth were quite black. The other women featured in the photos (before and after above) had significant blackening between her front teeth. Upon closer inspection the extent of darkness was progressing more profoundly behind her teeth (due to cavities).

Here’s the bottom-line. With a bit of care and extra time, Dr. Jack and the other dentists can essentially bring the decay to a halt. This means their teeth, will mostly likely last for the rest of their lives. White teeth, teeth that will never fall out, create dignity and a sense of confidence. It’s remarkable work the dental team is doing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Las Trojes: Day One For The Medical Team

Las Trojes is a community just outside the city of Amaltitlan.  It is a beautiful area up in the hill country and the location for Day One of the Medical Team Clinics.

The Dental Team was on site for an hour before the rest of the team. For the first time, our generator decided to be difficult, creating some logistical issues; however, despite the set back the dental team would go on to see 148 patients, a tremendous accomplishment! While extractions were common, restorations were the real joy for the  team. This is the opportunity to restore a tooth rather than simply pull it out

Distribution hit the ground running as the prep for each day had been done the night before.  Sorting of so many great things like underwear, boots and shoes and assorted clothing.  Soccer shirts donated by a Guelph, Ontario soccer association were a huge hit as were the soccer socks! 

As I spent most of my time with the doctors, following the activities of two in particular, I have to note one thing:  It is as if they had been working in this setting, doing this type of primary care for months as a team.  Once the patients began arriving there was only a brief respite for them and their translators to grab lunch.

The phrase, "love is a verb", is one we as a team have  embraced. It is not simply about processing as many people as possible with no thought to person or circumstance. It has been amazing to see the team listen and care for those who came asking for our help.  It's not about us, as we were reminded when we set off in the morning.  It's about the people of Guatemala.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Life In Guatemala: Getting Adjusted

Today, the Medical Team - all the people from Canada - joined forces with the FTC Guatemala Team on a hill overlooking Antigua, Guatemala.  This was the point where we really came together to form one team.

Our first adjustment in Guatemala was to Guatemala City and the slightly chilly air.  I suppose that is not really a grand thing for the Canadians to deal with! 

The next adjustment was to the culture and settling in to a new schedule.  Today began with essential jobs performed by the smaller teams, doctors, dentist, pharmacy and distribution.

Vitamins and other pills needed to be sorted into smaller packages, an entire shipping container of clothing, shoes, and other supplies needed to be unboxed and made ready for each day in the field.

Doctors met to review plans and dentists made last minute adjustments to equipment to ensure everything was in working order.

With a great head start we adjourned for Antigua for a quick visit to the old capital city and then off to a coffee plantation for a final team get together.

The blog entries this week will feature the activities of the groups I've just mentioned and I'll tell you about some of the children and families we are helping with essential primary care. 

It can not be emphasized enough that this type of care, be it medical or dental, can not be afforded by the people we see. We also know that families will often go months, even years without ever seeing to the basic health concerns they experience.  This can lead to much bigger problems.

I will also be spending more focused time on 2 team members.  They will be the subjects of a mini-documentary so I will be interacting with them daily and bringing their story to life on the screen (not the "big" screen, but the screen nontheless).

Thank you for joining us on this journey, and thank you for your support; it is helping the people of Guatemala in very tangible ways.

The Journey Begins: Toronto to Guatemala

Hi, John Matthews here and your blogger for the week in Guatemala. I hope to post updates, photos and video of our time here. I shot the video below while I was in Toronto, but you at least should know that we are here safely in the heart of Guatemala City and doing well.

While Toronto is far behind - the weather may not be.  It was very cool here when we arrived meaning sweaters and jackets required!

Stay tuned for more.

John Matthews
FTC Canada

Medical Team Safely In Guatemala

The FTC Canada Medical Team is safely on the ground in Guatemala.  From Toronoto to Central America (El Salvador to Guatemala) was a tiring day and everyone was ready for a good nights rest. 

Various parts of the team are already hard at work.  Those teams include, medical, dental, pharmacy and distribution.  Stay tuned as the week has only just begun and there will be plenty more to follow.

John Matthews
FTC Canada