Sprezzatura on Bamboo Poles

EyesPerhaps you know someone like this: no matter what they do or what predicament they find themselves in, life just seems to be taken in stride for them. They make it look so easy. Other people in the same situation may be freaking out, melting down, or running away. But not this person; they have what it takes to stick with it. They have sprezzatura. This old Italian word basically means, “Don’t let them see you sweat.” It’s where everything seems to be almost effortless, yet it always works out. Kru Nam is my Thai picture of sprezzatura.The first time I sat down to talk with Kru Nam, we were on the bamboo-slat floor of a rickety shack on thicker bamboo poles, in the middle of a bare patch of land. With each movement we made, the bamboo floor stretched and groaned underneath us, threatening to let go under the weight of all of us. Beside me, Vaden nervously held his breath, fully aware that his 250 pounds was the biggest reason for the bamboo’s objections! That land and that little shack were nothing to look at if you are only capable of seeing what is in front of you. But we didn’t see it with our eyes that day – we saw it with our hearts as Kru Nam painted a picture for us of what freedom could look like for the 100+ kids that they had rescued off the streets and out of brothels. On that dry little patch of land, far away from the eyes and reaches of predators, traffickers and corrupt law enforcement, they could create a place of safety, a place of hope, and a haven of love. At the time that we met them all, they were seeking out an existence with these orphans in a two-story storefront building. Meals were never taken for granted and every baht (Thai Currency) was tightly accounted for. They had nothing but love, hope, and a dream – and an incredible dose of sprezzatura!Beautiful FeetAs we sat there that day, we joined our dreams with hers of how LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) could help and of what this could look like. Kru Nam pulled out the plans for the homes that they were believing they could build on that land, and we began to see it all take shape right in front of us. These homes would mean more than we could ever dream for these kids and the staff that worked with them. They would have room to play and be kids in, they would have access to clean water, they would have an office which they could set up and begin to reach out to the world around them in. After that afternoon, we were returning to Canada with a goal: to rally the troops and get them some help. And we were able to do it: through the help of LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), the Not For Sale Campaign, and a few other international organizations, money and resources were raised to start the project.One year later we returned with our Hero Holiday team and we weren’t quite prepared for what was there when we pulled up to the property: new, beautiful and clean buildings sat proudly on the property, laughing kids danced around our truck, waving excitedly for us to come see their new home, and in the midst of all of them, Kru Nam and her staff stood there beaming at us, waving us on. I was in awe of how far they had come and I said so to Kru Nam right after I hugged her hello. She smiled, as usual, and calmly said, “Yes, we have come a long way this year.” Despite much opposition, being taken advantage of by corrupt officials, money and resources being continually stolen from them by construction workers and other people as they attempted to get settled in their new place, and the heartbreak of losing some kids back to the streets and to sickness, they were still standing and they weren’t going anywhere. Still, they stood there that day, welcoming us with grace and poise to their new home – their new home that had cost them everything and would continue to be full of healing and heartbreak every day. They stood there with sprezzatura, and as I watched them in action, it made me want to try a little harder, work a lot smarter and reach a lot more lives.WarmthKru Nam and her staff stand as beacons of light in very dark place in Northern Thailand. Every day there are hurdles to overcome, unexpected predicaments and often heartbreak, but through love and determination, they work with each one of the kids they harbour to live a life of recovery and wholeness. This is love at the grassroots and it is vital to the future of our global family. This August, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s Hero Holiday program will be returning to Thailand to help Kru Nam, her staff, and the incredibly inspiring kids that they love and work with, both on the streets and in their homes. We would love to have you join us! Check out to find out more about how you can join us on the experience of a lifetime!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 27th, 2010

Okanagan Group Hard at Work in Mexico

Monday, Feb 22nd. First day on our Hero Holiday.With excitement, our team left our San Diego hotel and boarded the Hero Holiday coach bus for Vicente Guerrero, Mexico. The border going into Mexico went quite smooth – get off the bus, pick up your suitcase, and walk across the border. But push the button first to see if you were randomly picked for a search. The only person who got a red light was me! I was LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)ly delighted to discover that I had not grabbed my suitcase, it was Blair’s. No problem. A fairly quick stop in Ensenada for a bite to eat and purchases for our house. Then continued the great trip down the Baja and surprised to see it is verdant green! The peninsula had been inundated with rain in January, which ruined the bean crop near Guayabitos on the mainland and some of the strawberry crop in the Baja. The rain also wiped out a few bridges along the highway south. One passage way we forded and the other was being “filled in” with dirt (ingenuity). The rain also caused most of the villages to become mud bogs, so getting in and out was an adventure (Alan, we needed your dune buggy!). The water just sits on the top layer of the compacted soil so it is not going away soon.Tuesday, February 23rd.With our Hero Holiday hosts, Andrew and Dawn, we took a 40 minute bus ride out to our building site. Our team has grown to 14 people: Nora from Princeton, Lance from Kelowna, Randy, Art and Marcia from Summerland, Elisa from Kamloops and Blair from Kaleden/Penticton as well as 6 participants in the SOL (School of Leadership) and their fearless leader Brett. Our new extended Mexican family quite excited to see us, Grandfather age 81, Grandmother 70, madre Anastasia (mom), her sister Fortunada, Anastasia’s son Carlos, 12, son Jiovanni, 11; daughter Alexandra, 9; and son Sevastian, 4. Our first day on the work site was productive. We completed: 4 roof panels (and painted); 3 ½ walls; a partially dug hole for the bano (outhouse for you gringos); fascia painted (by grandfather, little girls, and Nora); some long boards that I have no idea what they are for (also painted). But most of this done by our crew and the SOL class. Roberto has been hired by us to dig the hole as no-one in the family is physically able to do this hard task. I am unclear on the amount this will cost (perhaps $60. USD), but it is great to have Roberto there for translating, particularly medical problems, as Sandiego and Andrew had to leave for a medical crisis elsewhere. Grandfather has been told by a doctor that he needs hearing aids. I think we have arranged to get him to a clinic tomorrow to see about this, as well as change his catheter. Hopefully we can have Alexandra’s cleft palette receive some attention . Grandmother, Sabrina is a wonderful gardener. When I showed a little interest in her garden she took me around and showed me each plant – and named it! I surprised her when I gave her the Spanish name for cilantro. “Cilantro” I said. Same, same! Several peach trees decorated her garden which she started by seed. She offered me a few of her bedding plants but I pantomimed that I could not get them back to Canada. I wish I had brought some of my heritage seeds. We were taken to a Taco stand for supper.Wednesday, February 24thWork completed: Four walls and the roof went up today, bano built, a free standing shower house that looks exactly like the bano on the outside but more like a sauna on the inside (slatted floor, 4 walls, no bench). The rule for showers is a BYOW “bring your own bottle of water” policy. The Bano hole is down about 6 feet. Supper at  John’s Place: Roasted chicken, salads. Yummy!Wednesday was very different for me. At our request, Andrew loaded Santiago, me, Modesto (grandfather), Anastasia (mother) and Alexandra (9 year old daughter) into the van and headed to the clinic in the Orphanage in Vicente Guerrero for medical help for Modesto and Alexandra. Both were seen quickly by Ellie, a very helpful nurse. Modesto’s needs attended to quickly and also a referral to a hearing doctor in Ensenada and for Alexandra, a booking for cleft palette reconstruction May 7 also in Ensenada. At this point, all travel is arranged!!! Santiago received a date and time for Modesto at the hearing doctor – so we all leave early tomorrow for his 11:00am appointment. Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Two purple “outhouse” looking structures are looking very spiffy!~ A participant on the Okanagan Group’s Hero Holiday

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 25th, 2010

Is Dominican Republic safe right now?

Dominican Republic is an amazing country and it is full of many kind and gentle people. Primarily there are two cultures that live there: Dominicans and Haitians. It is estimated that there are over 500,000 Haitians that live in Dominican Republic and of those, many are stateless, without proper identification papers or birth registry. They are not running from the law in Haiti and they are not dangerous criminals; they are there to try to make a living for their family. Although Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haitian people are hard working, honest, and considerate. As neighbours on such a small island, Dominican has had many Haitians immigrate and migrate back and forth across the border. Simply put, it is a way of life for many of them, as poverty and hardship has driven them to continually be seeking employment and provision for themselves and their family.Since the earthquake in January, there has been a slight increase in the number of Haitians living in the Sosua area. One of our staff members is currently living in Sosua and they have reported that although there may be a few more Haitians who have been forced to move here to find work and be re-united with their families, there have been no reported incidents of violence or problems of any kind in the area. Life is still going on the same as usual for many of them: they search for work, they hope to put their children in school and they live their lives quietly. And because of this, LiveDifferent is honored to work alongside of them.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 23rd, 2010

Misael’s Hope

MexicoHuman rights are not always something that you or I think about very often. Most of us live and work in a world where we never really have to consider how they affect our lives: we take many privileges for granted and in our thinking, they are natural, not something to be fought for. However, for many of our friends around the world, human rights are something they have fought for, sacrificed for, and have welcomed support for; especially when it comes to their kids.The first Declaration on the Rights of a Child was accepted by the League of Nations in 1923. With the basic premise that every child has the right to education, healthcare, security and a home, it was received by the world as the basis for the hope of children everywhere. Great in theory…much more difficult in practice. Too often, governments can overlook those that need the help the most; it is easier to pretend sometimes that our help isn’t needed. LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) experienced something really refreshing in Mexico this year. We saw how government can help if they choose to, and we saw how simple it can be to offer a disabled child dignity and hope – even when many things seem hopeless.Stefany is a Mexican social development worker in San Quentin. According to LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) staff, she is the kind of social worker that will drive to your shack at one in the morning if you need her to. Because of her amazing dedication, she is well-respected among the poor, and she is always in the loop of who needs help. That’s how we found out about Misael.MexicoMisael shared a bedroom in a friend’s house with his mom, Juana, his sister, Wendy, and his on-again-off-again dad. Two months before we met Misael, he lost his leg in a motorbike accident with his dad. A drunk driver crashed into them, crushing Misael’s foot and resulting in a rapid infection that led to amputation above the knee. The young family needed someone to believe in them and they needed that belief to result in tangible help.LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) made a deal with the government: if they would provide the land for Juana and her family, we would provide the house. Misael deserved the right to have his childhood back. Without any possibilities of trauma counseling or otherwise, he at least needed to know that his life was important and that someone cared enough to show him. He needed room to learn how to walk again, and space to just be a kid again. Through the kindness of the government workers, and landowner’s donation, and the help our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) School of Leadership students, Misael got that and more. A new home for the family resulted in a special shower for Misael, as well as other necessary “luxuries” for the family such as bedding, kitchen supplies and warmth. And best of all? Misael has been fitted for a prosthetic limb and is learning how to adjust to his life with passion and fervor!MexicoThere are hundreds of thousands of children around the world like Misael, and most of them have lost their limbs due to the selfishness, greed and disregard of the world around them. At a time when the world should be celebrating their lives, the decisions of many have cost the Misael’s of the world dearly. Misael is an amputee because of one man’s selfish decision and because of the poverty that entrenches his young life. While his physical injuries can’t be changed, we can work together to help make the world a safer and more secure place for kids such as him.Join us on Hero Holiday this year in Mexico! We will be building homes for families such as Misael’s and working in communities to extend a hand up out of disabling poverty. We need you and you need to experience the power of being hope for someone else! Check out

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 21st, 2010

After Three Days In Mexico

Three days ago we arrived at this beautiful area called Vicente Guerrero. As you can see in the picture, we have made great progress since we’ve arrived here. We finished assembling the walls, raising the roof and painting the bathrooms.Our first impression of being here is that of humbleness. This experience really puts our lifestyles into perspective and I must admit that I’m a little embarrassed to have complained for the things I’ve acquired in the past. There are so many lessons to be learned here. I have come with intentions to help these people, which we no doubt are accomplishing, but what I did not expect was to be so personally challenged myself.The children here are all incredible. For the first while, they were so shy they would giggle and run away at the sight of us. However, after playing some games and bribing them with so many capuchis (piggy-backs), we finally gained their trust and hugs. It was common to pick out rusted tuna cans and twisted wires from the roads where we were playing soccer. Surely, I have never appreciated the soft green grass we have back in Canada more then I do now.One question that I am wrestling with minute by minute is: “Do I really have to leave this place?”- A Humble Canadian

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 17th, 2010

Reading Break Begins

 They have arrived! It is exciting that this university group, who we prepared for last May, has finally arrived.  Their arrival was a little delayed due to the swine flu ordeal last Spring.  It is great to have them here and their adventure started as soon as they landed when their airline assumed that Ben and Katleen would not need their luggage.  But letting nothing stop them, they bought a few clothes, borrowed a few more, and off we went.  Upon arrival in Vicente Guerrero, everyone settled into their rooms (John, the chicken pen), all enjoyed some genuine tacos, and Matt and Sandra tucked in early as usual.  Other then the random howling, everyone enjoyed a good night sleep.Andrew Bernardi – Mexico Operations Manager

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 14th, 2010

Never Forgotten

Haiti ReliefPeter Parker’s aunt once looked him in the eye and said to him, “Always remember: with great power comes great responsibility”. Months later, as he emerged into the beloved Spiderman, he never forgot those words. They were what helped him to see that he wasn’t helpless to watch injustice happen. He was empowered to make a difference. As the world began to respond to the crisis in Haiti, we all knew that we could not remain silent; nor could we remain inactive. We had to do something. We had the willingness, and thanks to the help of many friends from around the world, we had the means with which to make it happen. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it would always be worth it.Cole was one of our LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) team that responded to the earthquake crisis immediately. Joining with other supporters of LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), they showed up in Port au Prince within 80 hours after the initial earthquake. The situation was full of unspeakable horrors: tryng to help desperate family members search for loved ones under tonnes of rubble, working to get water and food to those who were still in shock and without a single means to provide for themselves, watching helplessly as the bodies of victims began to collect in the streets, and always, the stench of death and loss all around them. It was a lot to process and filter through, but when they returned to Canada, they returned with a desire to do something immediately and efficiently, and suporters of LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) responded with compassion and provision.Haiti ReliefOn February 4, two and a half weeks after arriving back in Canada, Cole crossed back over the border into Haiti with a supply truck filled with aid for Port Au Prince. All of it had been purchased with the money sent from around the world to LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute), and not a penny was wasted. After initially assessing the situation in January, we had determined that the best way for us to help was to work through David, the director of the children’s home in Port Au Prince that we support. David had identified four key neighbourhoods that were yet to receive any form of aid: they were people that had come to an orphanage, a church, a refugee and camp and one of the “tent cities” that had since erected since the earthquake. There was over 5000 people in total that were in these locations. With the help of many men that David had rounded up, they began to deliver supplies to these areas. Each family that was reached received a package filled with soap, candles, toilet paper, rice, beans, oil, drink mix, bandages, corn mix, clean drinking water, pasta, and cookies. It was the first means of any type of aid that they had received. They had thought they were forgotten, and when the truck showed up they realized that their prayers were heard and that they were valued.Each night, Cole, David, and the volunteers, would return back to the compound of Kay Papa Nou, David’s orphanage. Their building was not destroyed, but it has been damaged enough that they were not able to sleep in it. So, like the millions of other people in Port au Prince, they slept outside on the ground, under tent covers and mosquito harrassment. They are the lucky ones: they at least have a safe place to sleep, food and water, and each other. The only place that Cole could find to set up his “tent” at the compound was in the driveway, next to the chicken coop. Not bad, until 5 AM, when the kids from the orphanage woke him up singing church songs and offered him breakfast: spaghetti with ketchup and sardines. A great way to start the day!Haiti ReliefThat day was a day that Cole will never forget. As they went out in search of the next community that David had identified that needed aid, they found a family across the street from the tent city; only they were without a tent. The husband was blind and their six month old baby laid on the hard dirt beside them. They had lost everything. All they had was the clothes on their back, and even those should have been destroyed long ago. Cole and David took $30 of the supply money and found them a sturdy tent, filling it with food, a mattress, diapers, and other emergency supplies. Something so simple changed their lives completely. They were overwhelmed with gratitude, unable to fully express what this simple gift meant to them. Many of us would spend $30 on a night out and not even think anything of it, yet that simple gift gave them hope and reminded them that they were not alone, nor were they forgotten.Haiti ReliefDavid has set up a brilliant distribution system in the neighbourhoods we have been helping through the money that has been donated to LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute). It is getting aid into the hands of people who need it most, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something so simple yet so profound. The word “compassion” is defined by “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering”. This is what it can look like in our day and age: to give hope to the hopeless, provide food for the hungry, be a voice for the voiceless, and to always be mindful that with our great power comes a great responsibility. It is the responsibility to respond where we can, because our choices are powerful and affect the world around us.For those of you who donated toward our Haiti emergency relief efforts, thank you. Your gift has gone a long ways and has been put into the hands that need it most. Your compassion for our Haitian friends and family is an incredible legacy and we are honoured to partner with you.We will be continuing to work in Haiti in the days ahead through our Hero Holiday projects. We need your help! Please consider joining us and/or helping us to fund much needed rebuilding efforts. Every choice we make matters and we are glad that we are in this together. Check out for more information on how to get involved.

Author: LiveDifferent


Haircuts for Haiti Fundraiser

A fundraising event called Haircuts for Haiti is being put on to support LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s work in Haiti by an amazing group of volunteers and stylists. If you live in the Hamilton area, please support this great cause! Click the poster for more details:Haircuts for Haiti

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 21st, 2010 from 12-5PM@ Ancaster Community Center(385 Jerseyville Rd W, Ancaster)Professional stylistsfrom Ancaster,Burlington &Hamilton salons……………Cut & Style:Adults $25Children $15(12 and under)

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 8th, 2010

How a Revolution Begins

HaitiLiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) has had many incredible moments over the years. We have met people all over the world, many of them quietly and consistently creating a revolution on their own terms: through love, compassion, hope and generosity. Nikki is one of those people and she is an inspiration for many of us who know her. Nikki first joined us on a Hero Holiday in Dominican Republic the summer of her high school graduation. Having seen an LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) presentation in her school the preceding year, something inside of her was quickened when she was offered the opportunity to join us and make a difference. That something is how a revolution begins.A revolution is defined by “a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.” In the world in which we live, many revolutions have resulted in lives being lost and change being brought, but at a very high price. However, there is one remarkable characteristic that has often been overlooked: many of the world’s revolutions have been led by the youth. Often times, those who are the most impassioned for change are the emerging generation. However, being passionate for change is one thing, having an outlet to make that happen is another.In the DRNikki came home from Dominican Republic a changed life. Not only did she experience all of the emotional moments of encountering poverty and exploitation, but she also saw past that and realized that she could turn her life into a life that reaches out where it is most needed. Realizing that she had the ability to raise funds on her own to continue to do what she felt she needed to do, Nikki created a blog designing business, Blogs for a Cause. Through her work with creating blogs, Nikki raised thousands of dollars for both her own travels and to donate to many international projects that she was passionate about. But it wasn’t just about finding ways to raise money that made the revolution in Nikki’s life; it was about being the change right where she was at: her trip with Hero Holiday also inspired her to meet Haitian refugees in her community. Every Wednesday and Saturday Nikki volunteers with refugees, mostly Haitian, helping to teach English, show them around the city, offering free babysitting, and reaching out to them in compassion. Because she has seen the power of child sponsorship and how it brings hope to so many lives, Nikki also personally sponsors 5 children around the world, all while putting herself through university.Since her first trip with Hero Holiday, Nikki has been back to Dominican Republic four times, has led her to Ethiopia, and inspired by LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s work with Haitians in Dominican Republic, this past year, Nikki and a fellow Hero Holiday alumni, Melissa, went to Port au Prince, Haiti. There they joined up with the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic charity that ran a malnutrition clinic in Delmas, one of the main areas of Port au Prince. Nikki and Melissa helped out where they could, holding the children and helping to feed and take care of them. It was raw and shocking: of the 100 children in the charity’s care, they lose an average one life per day to poverty’s cruelty. Nikki held 6 year old Frankel, who was still the size of a baby, with hair falling out and was literally skin and bones. Little Frankel left an impact on Nikki and his young life inspired her to return to Canada and to continue to work to help raise money for the charity there.When I asked Nikki why she is so passionate about what she does, this is what she said:Ethiopia“People that I met through Hero Holiday are among those I consider my favourite people in the world; people that I can be myself around, feel comfortable with, and learn from. Hero Holiday taught me the value of education in poverty stricken countries, and so in the months that follow the earthquake I am going to try to raise money and awareness to build up the schools that have collapsed and make education possible for all of the children in Haiti who do not, or cannot, attend school.”At first, I wondered how she was going to do that; but I should have known better. Of course she had a plan! She has designed a fair trade shirt, available on her blog, One Tiny Starfish, and the proceeds are going towards rebuilding Haiti, one life at a time.And that is how a revolution begins…LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is now starting to do Hero Holidays to Haiti. We will be focusing on rebuilding efforts in Port Au Prince, to help counter the orphan crisis, as well as looking towards building projects for education and medical care in Cap Haitien, one of the main cities receiving refugees from the earthquake. You can help! Check out”Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”. ~ Barack Obama

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 7th, 2010

Flooding in Mexico

 In the past few weeks Mexico has experienced tropical rain storms that have resulted in mass flooding and serious damage.  The common site here a couple of weeks ago was flooded roads and collapsed bridges on the main highway, houses swept away in the rush or ‘new’ rivers, and several flooded schools and some makeshift school buildings were even blown away / flattened completely.We have been in Mexico  for less then a week and have been helping at a few schools that were constructed in the middle of a river bed. On Saturday we worked along side the Mexican military digging out fences, and cleaning out two one room schools. We mopped the floors, cleaned the walls and cleaned toys.  Unfortunately, due to all the water damage we had to throw away alot of the lesson plans and the kids’ work books as well as their school supplies.It is incredible to see how the weather can cause so much damage, so quick.School of Leadership Students – Spring 2010

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: February 2nd, 2010