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Monday, June 27, 2011

Colombia - Land of Emeralds and Gold

Gold and Emeralds

Raw Emeralds at the Mine
Many people have known, for centuries, that the finest emeralds in the World come from Colombia.  If you are in a museum in Europe looking at crown jewels, the emeralds came from the mines of Colombia, probably Muzo or Chivor

Entrance to an emerald mine
It might be interesting to take a closer look at the emerald mines, since most of us are accustomed to seeing only the finished product in a ring, or a queens crown.  To this day, the mines that produced the emeralds for Europe's royal households are still operating.  So I thought I'd post a little article and a few photos so that you could see where these emeralds come from, what the mines look like, and get a sense of how it all happens.

The standard operating procedure is that miners pay a tribute to the person who owns the mine.  They enter the mines and work for themselves.  They can sell the emeralds to people who travel to the mines, but few people take the long drive through winding mountain roads to arrive at the mine sites.  Instead, most of the miners take their emeralds to the major market in Bogota where emerald buyers converge from around the World.  Many come from major diamond houses in Europe to buy emeralds and, in fact, some pay with diamonds.  This creates an interesting market where inexpensive diamonds can be purchased in the emerald markets!

Museo del Oro
Those who do drive to the mines are able to conclude their business directly with the miners.  The people who do this typically cut and polish their emeralds and mount them in jewelry that can be found in many of the high end jewelry shops in major cities like Bogota, Cartagena, or Santa Marta.  Another major resource of Colombia is gold, and there's a national museum called the Museo del Oro where some of the best examples of Pre-Colombian gold art can be found.  It is a national treasure and well worth seeing.

A Chillin Porch in Colombia
We also tend to think of Juan Valdez and coffee when we discuss the beauty of Colombia, so I thought I'd put a few coffee photos in here too.  Just so that you can see that Colombia has every variety of coffee imaginable.  The reason Colombian coffee is the best quality in the World is due to the climate and the soil.  This is no different than the Rheims region of France where the best Champagne is produced.  It's about the climatic conditions and the soil. 

Coffee Cherries
Finally, perhaps a photo or two of the colonial architecture and the beaches of Colombia.  Colombia has three colors on the flag, gold, red, and blue.  These colors have significance insomuch as the gold represents the natural resources of Colombia, the blue represents the fact that Colombia has both Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the red is for the blood of the patriots who bravely defended Colombia and have created the longest standing democracy in all of Latin America.

Beach on the Atlantic Side
The beauty of Colombia is surpassed only by the magnificence of the people.  Consistently, in the United Nations study on where the happiest people in the World live, Colombia is always near the top of the list probably because the Colombian people are very happy in general.  They don't seem to need all the material wealth we have in order to be happy.  I think it also has to do with the tremendous climate and natural wealth of great food, great weather, and every possible kind of climate imaginable within a few hours drive.

So take a look and enjoy some of the photos, I think you'll find Colombia is a very beautiful place.  I know that I've come to love Colombia in a very deep and profound manner.  I love everything about Colombia.  And sure, I recognize there have been difficulties, but what country doesn't have challenges?  The point is this, one can be happy no matter where you live.  But if you happen to live in Colombia... you've got a huge basket of reasons to be happy!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Devon Lions and Lionettes

Devon Lions and Lionettes, a group of people who make a difference.  It's not just about the amazing facilities we enjoy due to the Lions and Lionettes, and I cite a million dollar chalet facility that enhances our Lions Camp Ground, it's about the way they treat each other.  It's about the respect, the honor, and the dignity.

After we had a barbeque with wonderful side dishes and drinks galore by a roaring fire in the Devon Lions Campground, the Lionettes treated us to something very special.  We were led by a bagpipe playing Scottish Lion to a lovely part of the field where two trees were planted in honor and loving memory of Lionettes who passed away during the previous year.  Words of love and honor were read, tears dropped along with the gentle sprinkles from Heaven, and two magnificent trees now stand beside a bench inscribed with the names of these two wonderful ladies and the others who have preceded them.

It tells us a story about community and compassion, about caring and doing.  And in the end, it's also a story about love, dignity, and fellowship.  These people represent something very special and it's something that's been built upon generations of those who have come before to perform selfless community service so that our society and our World can be a more compassionate and move loving place.

Today there were about 50 of us sharing a wonderful evening together just celebrating each other and our friendship.  Overall, there are about 45,000 Lions Clubs that have 1.35 million members in 206 countries and geographic areas that span the globe.  Consistently one of the top ranked NGO's, the Lions Club does not extract even one cent of capital donated to relief efforts.  Of course, we do fight blindness, we work with children, and we donate hundreds of millions of dollars to worthy causes, but it's the work we do right in your own backyard that perhaps you don't know about.

When Maddox Flynn needed specialized surgery, the Devon Lions Club was there to help.  When a Devon RCMP officer needed funding to get a CCSVI treatment done in Mexico, the Lions Club where there to help.  Just as the Lions are there to help out the community, the Lionettes are always there to help the both the community and the Lions.  They also represent the Lions Club and their work is for the benefit of our community.  We provide motorized wheelchairs to those who can't afford them, we contribute to the rehabilitation of our veterans, and we roll up our sleeves and work on our community to make it a better place to live.  For every event you attend, like Christmas in the Park where the Lions are serving food and hot chocolate, there are a dozen events and activities you probably don't hear about.  Whether it is cleaning up the ditches or fixing park benchs, our people are there.  We fund people to elevate care for orphans in Sub Saharan Africa where the epidemic of AIDS has left hundreds of thousands of children homeless.  Our reach isn't just here in Devon, it spans continents, and we're just one small club.

The point is this.... we make a difference here and we make a difference on the global stage.  But we make a difference in ways that people might not understand or be aware of.  We are not subsidizing executive staffers to fly first class, stay in 5-star hotels, meet with and hobnob with the rich and famous, and eat in gourmet restaurants.  As you know, many so called "charitable" organizations do precisely that, some taking as much as 85 to 90% of your donated dollars for their so called "overhead" expenses. 

The Lions and Lionettes take precisely 0% of any donated monies.  We are able to operate in that manner because we have been financially responsible and we have a foundation that pays for the administrative costs of the International Organization.  Thus, as disaster strikes and you send in your money to help out, that money... each and every dollar, goes directly to the Lions Club on the ground in the affected country.
For example, in Japan, the Lions have mobilized over 16 million dollars and have now shifted to mid term to long term relief efforts coordinating with other NGO's such as the Red Cross for blood drives.  What's the difference between the Lions Club and so many other relief organizations...

  • Lions have over 40 years of experience with disaster relief
  • Lions exist in over 206 countries and geographic areas - they're staying
  • Lions have provided over 50 million dollars in disaster relief in the last 10 years
  • Lions have been named the #1 NGO by a Financial Times Study
  • Lions are helping out in your area whether you are in Slave Lake or in Tuscaloosa

There is so much more to the Lions Club and the Lionettes of Devon.  We are a proud group that helps quietly, but we do more than you could ever imagine.  The lives we touch are as enriched by our assistance as we are by the experience of knowing we've helped them.  This is what it means to be a Lion.

Take a look at some of the things Lions do...
If you're not amazed with what you find after clicking on a few of these links, then I don't know what it'll take to impress you!

If you'd like to become part of an organization like this, give us a call at 780-499-1062.  We'll be happy to invite you to a meeting where you can check us out and see the camaraderie we share.  Find out what it means to be a Lion or a Lionette today... it's a big step towards making the World a better place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities Fédération canadienne des municipalités

The Muni-Tweets at the FCM 2011 Tweet Up!

Devon Councillor Groat with
Calgary Mayor Nenshi
FCM 2011
It is the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) that provides a singularly strong voice for all levels of municipal government.  From infrastructure to immigrant settlement, the FCM provides incredible resources for municipal leaders.  The various policy and learning agendas of the FCM stretch across all issues from coast to coast to coast.  The networking opportunities are as unique as the geography of Canada.  There are few organizations that deliver move value, and by the way, fewer still that can possibly create a powerful voice to be brought forward to the table with other levels of government.  In short, the FCM cannot be ignored.

Devon Councillor Gordon Groat
with the Leader of the Opposition
the Honourable Bob Rae
While cutting edge technologies are part and parcel of the learning environment of FCM conferences, the vendors provide a welcome overview of what, in fact, could be technologically possible with some creativity and vision.  The assembly of this knowledge and evidence of actionable policy options provides a fertile training ground for municipal leaders no matter if they are brand new to politics or if they have decades of service.  The FCM, simply stated, is good for everyone.

I know that I learned a great deal at FCM and got to meet with old friends and make new friends.  Bob Rae was there, so was Jack Layton and Elizabeth May.  Time with the Calgary Mayor and Council was time well spent.  I met with Mayors, Reeves, and Councillors from all across our nation and had the chance to discuss exciting initiatives.

I'm pleased to say that the FCM is a tremendous organization and their work is absolutely indispensible.  I can't begin to underscore the value of FCM.  While our Councillors are not entitled to go every year due to the expense, in those years where I am not able to receive municipal assistance, I am determined to attend and shall gladly pay my own way for as long as I am in office.  The value is just as immense as the opportunity is great. 

Councillor Groat with Members
of the Charlottetown F.D. on their
Zodiac Fire Boat
I was very excited to see Atlantic Canada we invested in a family vacation to see the region once the conference was over.  Our investment took us across Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, and Prince Edward Island,   I also invested quite a bit of my time speaking with municipal officials from across Nova Scotia and PEI while we were out touring.  I visited Town Halls, Fire Departments, and even had the chance to visit some Army Troops of the Prince Edward Island Regiment.  I do this because it's a lot of fun to get to know new people and learn how they do things.  

I have found, in my life, that it is far better and quite often easier to learn great new things from other people.  To take something that works and bring it back home.  I also learned the seafood really is legendary in Atlantic Canada.  We had such a great time meeting people across Atlantic Canada that we came away from the experience entirely smitten with the region and the people.  
Urban waste collection station

Different regions of the country approach things with a different perspective.  For instance, how do we welcome visitors to our region, or how do we handle waste management and what systems do we use to collect waste on the street?  Sometimes things that are taken for granted in some parts of the country are interesting and seem refreshing to other parts of the country.  Canada is definitely a vast land, it's no wonder the unique characteristics of different areas are wonderful and interesting to people from other parts of the country.

1st Special Services Force
I wanted to spend some time at the important national historic site called the Halifax Citadel.  One of the last great fixed fortification feats of engineering constructed in North America.  It was every bit as magnificent as I had imagined.  Being that I'm a Canadian who is a veteran of the United States Army (yes, I'm a dual citizen), I found it fascinating that modern day Special Forces in Canada were born during World War II with an interesting unit made up of brave soldiers mostly from Alberta and Montana.  Say What?  Yes... The 1st Special Service Force a.k.a. the Devil's Brigade, was one of the first Special Forces units deployed in World War II and it was made up of Canadians and Americans serving and fighting in the same unit.