Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Local dentist spending Christmas helping orphans in Afghanistan

Dr. Shideh Pejman hoping to raise $10,000 to help fund dental clinic and orphanage

For the Westlock News. 

 Dentist Dr. Shideh Pejman is headed to Afghanistan in December to provide free dental services to orphans and others in need.

When Dr. Shideh Pejman came to Canada as a teenager, she swore she would repay the favour the world had given to her. Years later, the young dentist is on her way to fulfilling her vow as the Afghanistan-born Canadian, who works at the Leigh Smile Centre is heading to Kabul Dec. 23 to spend 10 days performing free dental work for anyone who needs it. 

As she explains it, that amounts to just about everyone.

“The whole country is going without dental care,” she said. “There’s one dentist for every 250,000 people, and that’s a dentist that doesn’t have enough equipment; they’re probably just doing extractions on teeth that could potentially be saved. But there’s no instruments, or supplies to do a filling. Any tooth that needs a filling gets pulled. That’s a disaster — we’re going to have a young population with no teeth.”

Pejman and her family left Kabul when she was six years old after the Soviet Union invaded in the 1980s. Her family first found their way to Iran where, with the help of the United Nations, they were able to move to Canada and start a new life.

Now, she is giving back.

“What I told them is that when I’m there, I’m there to help,” said Pejman. “I’m not going to say no to anyone, if I can help, I’ll be there. Dentistry is important — it’s not a luxury, it’s not an add-on to
your lifestyle. People are dying from oral diseases. With teeth, you know, your brain is right there. The infection, the only place it goes from your mouth is to your brain.”

Pejman is involved in the Afghanistan Dental Relief Project, a non-profit organization that has been working in Afghanistan since 2003. The group seeks to help fill the dental void left in Afghanistan after several decades of invasions and civil wars.

Aside from a lack of dental expertise and infrastructure, a serious problem facing the beleaguered nation is the fact that years of conflict have left many children orphaned. UNICEF estimates that at least 600,000 kids are currently homeless and that there are over two million orphans in Afghanistan.

“There are a lot of orphans, there are a lot of kids on the street,” said Pejman. “We’re talking about the youth in Afghanistan growing up in conditions where they’re super-traumatized. They’re not able
to contribute to the future of the country if we don’t help them out.”

To contend with this, Pejman is hoping to raise $10,000, with 25 per cent of the funds going to help orphanages. Pejman is paying for her own travel and living expenses while in Kabul, which she estimates will be close to $5,000.

The rest of the money raised is planned to help complete the newly-established Kabul Dental Training School, which educates locals and allows them to provide dentistry themselves.

“What I’m going to raise money for is towards them trying to build that clinic in Kabul,” explained Pejman, noting that the ultimate goal of the project was to reestablish dentistry across the country. “Because the training takes so long, we’re in school for 10 years to become a dentist, so that’s something that’s high in demand. They need doctors to go over and teach the assistants to use the equipment.”

Aside from her dental expertise, Pejman also plans to serve as a translator for many of the staff as she is fluent in Dari, her native tongue.

“The fact that I speak the language I think is going to help the team out a lot, because they always need a translator,” she added. “I can give them a true perspective of what's going on, what I’m hearing from people, and what the community wants to see more of.”

Having been away from her homeland for well over a decade, Pejman admits she is both excited and a bit apprehensive to return home.

“It’s probably going a little bit of a shock as to what I’m going to see, but it’s really good to know that I’m going to a place where they really need help,” she said. “It’s going to be different, for sure. I’m so used to my life here now, that I think it’s still going to be a bit of a change. But I’m going there with the outlook that I’m here to make the best of the situation. No matter how big of a shock, I’m planning to do the best that I can.”

She added that she was preparing for potential gender barriers as part of her itinerary.

“I think being a woman in Afghanistan right now is not easy. You always want to be there with a guy, and that’s something I’m not used to. I’m very independent and do everything on my own, so that’s going to be challenging,” she noted. “That’s something that really needs to change in Afghanistan. We have a lot of trained women that I know would want to help, so we need to make sure that it’s a
safe environment for female doctors to give back.”

However, the social situation is not shaking her resolve.

“I’m doing this for the kids. We’re talking about a huge orphan population, and I know that most of our patients are going to be kids,” she said. “I really want people to focus on how this project is focusing on kids and giving back to the younger generation that’s going build Afghanistan. We want to make them self-sufficient. This is going to be a stepping stone in a very big project.”

The Afghanistan Dental Relief Project was started by Dr. James Rolfe in 2003, who began by simply travelling the countryside with a backpack full of dental equipment. From those humble beginnings the organization has grown into an international group, with volunteers from across the planet. 

For Pejman, helping out is a natural extension of her practice.

“Being helped out in a way where you can’t put a face to someone who has helped you is something that is very familiar to me,” said Pejman. “When we left Iran I promised myself that I would do this for somebody else someday. So that’s where I’m at. It took about 14 years, but I can finally give back.”

If you would like to help Dr. Pejman on her journey, you can visit her fundraising page at https://www.generosity.com/medical-fundraising/afghanistan-dental-relief-project.

Savage stays as reeve

Don Savage unopposed at organizational meeting

#westlock #westlockcounty

For the Westlock News.

 Don Savage remains reeve for Westlock County.

Unopposed at the county’s Oct. 25 organization meeting, Savage will be joined by Ray Marquette as deputy reeve.

“It’s an honour, it’s great,” said Savage. “I’m looking forward to a productive year, provide intelligent and honest leadership to our council.”

With one year left to go until the municipal election, Savage is inheriting a bit of a bucking bronco — over the past few years the county has seen a considerable amount of staff turnover, going through six chief administrative officers, five public works bosses and four chief financial officers.

He will oversee the county as it navigates its way through a revised Municipal Government Act, which will require greater collaboration between the county, the Town of Westlock and the Village of Clyde.

Another issue Savage is up against is the difficulty the county is having maintaining revenue amid a sputtering economy, aging infrastructure and a lower dollar.

“One of the key challenges we’re facing is funding,” explained CAO Leo Ludwig.

“The level of work hasn’t diminished, the cost of the work hasn’t diminished, but the funding sources for that work have certainly diminished. We lost the bridge funding about three years ago; that’s had a significant impact on our community. Our linear and machinery equipment assessment have decreased significantly over the last few years, and we’re looking another 10 to 15 per cent decrease for 2017.

“Those are huge challenges to try and do the same amount of work with a lot less funding.
“A lot of wells have been shut in, so we’re not getting taxes from those anymore. As a municipality we have limited sources of revenue. Taxes and grants are pretty much it.”

Savage said he is ready for the coming challenges.

“We’re going to rally forward,” said Savage, adding that he expects his focus to be bringing the county into the upcoming regional collaboration agreement in stride.

“I think the effort to collaborate with the town is front and centre for all councillors.”

He noted that while he is focused on the next six months, so far he loves the job and would be quite happy to stay on past the 2017 elections.

“I intend to run again, I enjoy what I do. I am retired, and I have the spare time to put into the job.”

Municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 16, 2017.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Plans to establish local shooting range underway

Local shooters concerned about illegal ranges

#westlock #shootingsports

For the Westlock News.

The scene at the Echo Lake-area illegal firing range, located at SW19-TWP59-RGE23-W4M, in the summer of 2015. Plans are in the works to create a legal firing range in the area.
WN File
When Mike Walmsley first saw the illegal firing range that was set up in the Echo Lake area, he could hardly believe his eyes.

“It was terrible,” said the Westlock County Rural Fire Department chief.

“As a shooter myself, I would be bloody embarrassed to see what people had done out there. There was a hole in the ground that looks like it was the side of a big dugout. It was just filled with garbage — old TVs, old appliances, spent ammunition, live ammunition. It was so thick you could walk along the garbage without touching the ground. It was disgusting.”

The range, located at SW19-TWP59-RGE23-W4M became known to authorities in 2015 after a substantial wildfire. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) subsequently shut down the site for 28 days beginning on June 26, 2015.

“When we responded to the fire, we found that it was essentially an illegal shooting range and (it was) improper use of firearms that basically lit this fire,” commented Walmsley.

“They would dump stuff off there and shoot the hell out of it. There were trees cut off from rifle fire. It was a mess.”

Since the debacle, Walmsley and a few others have been trying to figure out a sensible fix.

The solution? Establish a made-in Westlock firing range to fulfill local sport-shooters’ needs.

“I have been in contact with (Alberta Environment and) Sustainable Resources and Development, and they are in agreement with the idea and right now we’re looking at a number of different parcels of Crown land throughout the county,” he said, adding that he was looking at five different locations. “We’re going to try to pick an acceptable one and go forward from there.”

While the range is still merely an idea, Walmsley is hard at work trying to find a suitable location for the range. As a .22 calibre bullet can travel in excess of two miles, the location will need to have very specific features.

“There’s very strict federal guidelines,” he said. “It all has to be inspected at every level of construction and while it’s being operated. The RCMP is heavily involved in the entire process.”

Currently, the nearest firing range is run by the Fish and Game Association in Barrhead, which is a members-only club and has a range of 300 metres.

Walmsley noted that he would like the Westlock range to eventually feature both pistol bays for handguns as well as a 1,000 metre “F-Class” range for long-distance target shooters.

“That’s definitely a dream,” said Walmsley.

“I’ve got some interest from international shooters in something being established locally. Something properly ran and properly constructed, it would be fantastic.”

The nearest F-Class rifle range is currently located in Humboldt, Sask. Walmsley conceded that he would likely have to build up to a 1,000-metre range to start, however.

“Something in the 300 to 400 metres, I think that’s a keyhole,” he said.

“We’ve looked at a couple of locations that definitely would suit the need for a shorter range and would afford expansion in the future.”

Walmsley added the most-likely scenario would be setting up a pistol range to start the project.

“There’s a lot less velocity and a lot less distance, so a lot less area is needed. They are a lot less problematic.”

Walmsley stressed that so far, all that has happened is discussion, and whether the range happens or not would depend largely on the amount of interest.

“Right now, we’re just exploring the options,” he said.

“To say that it’s definitely going to happen or not, I have no idea. The initial decision for usage is up to (Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development.) Once it crosses that threshold, then we need locals’ permission.

“If we get one or two people who say ‘Not in my back yard,’ then it doesn’t happen. To find an area that is suitable, is allowed by the government and to have no people oppose it, that might be our biggest hurdle.”

For Walmsley, establishing an official range is an important step to reducing firearm shenanigans in the county.

“You’re always going to have the small percentage whose idea of a good time is to get drunk and shoot things,” he said. “We’re trying to get away from that mentality, but without a decent place to go, how do you start to get away from that?”

Senior Warriors have rough weekend

Club falls to Daysland and Bonnyville by combined 13-1 margin
#westlock #daysland #bonnyville

 For the Westlock News.

Warriors’ forward Mike Podruzny fires a shot just past Daysland Northstars’ goaltender Andy Sinclair during the team’s 7-0 home opening loss on Oct. 21.
Eric Bowling/WN
The Westlock Warriors had a rough weekend and posted only a single goal in 7-0 and 6-1 loses to the Bonnyville Pontiacs and Daysland Northstars.

Warriors’ Nathan Brown scored the lone goal of the weekend early in the third period of their Oct. 23 road loss to Bonnyville — the club now sits with an 0-3 record in the North Central Hockey League.
Team manager Joe Kuhar pulled no punches when he described their difficulties.

“Overall we played alright, but the biggest issue we have right now is that we can’t score goals,” said Kuhar. “That’s really the difference in allowing ourselves to pick ourselves up.”

While he wasn’t using it as an excuse, he noted that the Warriors were contending with a greatly-reduced roster.

“We came to Bonnyville with an extremely short bench and missing a lot of our top guys,” said Kuhar.

“Some of our guys are farmers and they’ve got to combine. The weather is little nicer now, so they’re going. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to go with what you’ve got.”

The 6-1 loss in Bonnyville was the second low-point of the weekend for the Warriors, who were also defeated 7-0 in their Oct. 21 home opener by the Daysland Northstars.

In that battle, goaltender Marcus Johnson stood on his head, but he was unable to stop the onslaught. The Northstars opened scoring up in the first period when Derek Wolbeck snuck one past Johnson just after seven minutes in, followed by a goal in the second by Grayson Soprovich.

But things really unraveled for the Warriors in the third period with five unanswered goals.

Despite of the losses, Kuhar noted that the Warriors are not down and will improve.

“We’re working as a team and we’re working together and trying to find that chemistry,” said Kuhar. “It’s a team effort and a team loss and everybody striving and working hard to put those goals in the net so we can move forward.”

Kuhar added it was pretty clear what their focus in practice will be.

“Shooting. A lot of shooting and getting a lot of traffic to the net. That’s where we’re lacking and that’s where we’re going to focus our efforts,” said Kuhar.

“We’ve got to gain our confidence and we’re taking positives from every game.”

The Warriors next hit the ice at home on Oct. 29 in a battle with the Eckville Eagles — the puck drops at 8:30 p.m. The following day the club heads to Whitecourt to face the Wild.

Thunderbirds WFL run ends versus Royals

Locals drop Oct. 22 WFL consolation semifinal 42-20
#westlock #WFL #t-birds

For the Westlock News.

Thunderbird Mathew LeBeau blasts past Cold Lake Royals Anthony Francis and Thomas Kell during the Wheatland Football League consolation semifinal held at Westlock Elementary School Oct. 22. The T-Birds fought hard, but ended up on the wrong side of a 42-20 decision.
Eric Bowling/WN

The Westlock T-Birds left everything on the field, but we unable to topple the Cold Lake Royals in the Wheatland Football League consolation semifinal played at Westlock Elementary School Oct. 22
The T-Birds opened the game with a touchdown, but were quickly answered back by the Royals, who ultimately went on to post a 42-20 victory.

“We prepared hard throughout the week, and felt pretty confident. But they’re a well coached team and they were really mentally tough — they weren’t phased by us,” said head coach John Kramer.
“We just made a few coaching errors along the way and it caught up to us early on in the third quarter.”

The team was able to capitalize on a series of roughing penalties committed the Royals midway through the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown but were unable to complete a two-point conversion and finished with 20 points on the board.

Kramer said that regardless of the final score, he was proud of how his team played.

“We’re just really proud of the boys and the effort that they put in this far in and we rallied too. When the game was clearly out of reach we still put in one more touchdown.”

Kramer noted that while the loss was tough to take, the fact it was likely the last game for a few of his graduating players is the real downer.

“We had six players graduate this year, so that was kind of their last quarter of football,” said Kramer.
The T-Birds future looks bright, however. The team’s rebuilding will continue over the winter and Kramer noted he has a solid veteran core heading into next season.

“We try to make football a year round thing — we do a lot of volunteering and getting together in the off-season,” added Kramer.

“We’ve got a crew of 35 returning. Our vets are excited; they know what it’s all about now. They’ve had a year under their belts so it’ll be exciting to push forward with this bunch.”

Kramer expressed his gratitude to the community for its support over the season.

“We felt a lot of support from everybody in the community. It takes a lot of funds to make this work and make it affordable for the players,” he said.

“We had 52 players come out in the spring and we didn’t have enough equipment, so we put out a call to the community and the money was there.

“So I want to give a big thanks to the community for their support, whether it’s financial or just coming to the game. It’s an honour for the boys to play in front of people who care about it.”

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Local support for stroke survivors

Two new programs rolled out at Westlock Healthcare Centre

#westlock #healthcare #stroke #volunteer #goodguy
For the Westlock News.

Bob Way and Kara Rimmer share a laugh at the Patel Room at Westlock Healthcare Centre. Way travels around the county and beyond to help coach stroke survivors through their recovery.
Eric Bowling/WN

Bob Way knows a thing or two about strokes and the long journey of determination to overcome one.

The Westlock man, originally from Newfoundland, survived a stroke on Nov. 30, 2010. His experience was so profound that he has taken up the burden of helping guide fellow survivors through the difficult and often very frustrating road to recovery.

“My left side was like it was over in the other chair,” said Way. “I couldn’t do nothing. It took three full days to be able to move my thumb, and that to me was a big, big movement.

“It’s no fun, believe me,. When you’re wide awake and know exactly what’s going on and you’re lying in the bed and you can’t do one thing about it, it’s scary.

“Really scary.”

While recovering from a stroke can be both frustrating and discouraging, Way said patients have to use that frustration to their advantage.

“Frustration leads to ambition,” said Way. “There’s no use getting pissed off, you’re already in the situation. Getting mad doesn’t help. I found that out years and years ago.

“When the nurse stands there with her arms crossed, watching you, when it takes you 45 minutes to put on one sock, and she doesn’t help, and you’re just stubborn enough not to ask, that’s progress.”

Westlock Healthcare Centre began two new programs for stroke survivors this last week spearheaded by former stroke services coordinator Kara Rimmer.

The first is a peer-group initiative that pairs Way with new patients.

“Bob comes and visits our stroke patients in the hospital for peer support so that they have somebody that has been through the journey as well that can relate to what they are going through,” said Rimmer, who now works in the emergency room.

“He’s so dedicated.”

The second initiative is a stroke-survivor support group that will meet on the second Monday of every month. On average, Westlock Health Centre treats one stroke patient a week.

“(Each session) will be a 20-minute to half-hour education session on different topics every month,” said Rimmer. “Those topics could even be chosen by the group. Then for the next hour or so I’ll be guiding conversation on a different personal growth topic.

“For the first month we’re going to explore the topic ‘Who am I?’ and how impressions of that have changed since the person had their stroke.”

Rimmer added that while the sessions are intended to educate and assist survivors, her main hope is that the sessions lead to lasting friendships.

“If people want to stick around and visit in the cafeteria and have their own personal conversations, that’s what I’m hoping will happen. That people will make connections at this groups.”

She added that the service was not limited to residents of Westlock — patients from as far away as Smoky Lake are expected to join the support group.

Rimmer said that getting the group going is the capstone of her work with stroke patients.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a couple of years,” she said. “This is such a huge, huge piece. The patients that I’ve had over the last two years have been such an inspiration. Their strength and their determination have just been incredible.

“The mountains that they have to climb after a stroke are huge. So many people face it one day at a time. I just want to encourage and support them along the way.”

For his part, Way is happy to help however he can.

“I’m available, basically, because I’m too old to do anything else,” joked the 77 year old.

Barn owner vows to rebuild

Cause of Sept. 19 blaze near Busby remains unknown

#westlock #fire #busby #severson #freerun

For the Westlock News.

The scene Sept. 19 near Busby as the multi-million dollar Severson Free Run Barn burns. The facility’s owner says they plan to rebuild.
WN File

Muneer Gilani is eager to get the Severson Free Run Barn up and running again after the multi-million dollar, 50,000 square foot Busby-area barn went up in flames Sept. 19.

“Our plan is definitely to rebuild,” said Gilani, adding the insurance company is still investigating the cause of the blaze.

“It’s just that the technology and the bird-welter housing is changing every day, so we want to make sure that we build with the latest technology as well as try to understand what went wrong.

“Once I get the results of that then we’ll make a definitive decision in consultation with our neighbors and the individuals who live around the barn, as well as those who work at the barn to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.”

While the fire put an end to all regular operations at the barn, Gilani noted that his employees are still working.

“Thus far we’ve been able to find activities for everyone else to be involved in, whether it’s working on other barns or helping with clean up efforts,” he said. “There’s a lot to do, you can imagine, with a site that large. So we haven’t had any shortage of work, we’re like most farms, there’s a lot to do all the time. Everyone’s working.”

Gilani noted that the fate of the original building is still anyone’s guess, though he expects he will have to rebuild.

“The walls look a little bit warped and they’re cement walls,” he said. “So I’m waiting for an engineer’s report. Verbally, he told me it looks like it probably isn’t going to work.”

He expressed his appreciation to the community during this difficult time.

“I want to thank the firefighters and the community for all their support. The firefighters came from quite far away, so we appreciate all their support. Maybe down the line we’ll have to get together and buy those folks lunch. They really did a good job for us, trying to contain things.”