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Former city councillor turns attention to global health issues

James Gordon to launch latest book, raise awareness of needed care in The Congo

Sometimes a chance conversation has a big impact.

James Gordon, a Guelph author, singer/songwriter, activist and former city councillor, has a double book release coming up at The Bookshelf on March 29. There he also hopes to spread the word in support of the Tumaini Letu DRC Project: Bring Back the Smile to Tumaini Letu Drc.

“I decided to not run again in the last election. My whole reason for serving my community for eight years was because I wanted to serve and contribute to my community,” Gordon said.

“But since retiring, I thought well, why don’t I turn my attention to the global community rather than just local? For some cosmic and mysterious reason, it seems that Africa is calling me.”

It all began when Gordon met Justin Zihindula last summer at a weekend retreat.

Facilitated by Gordon, the retreat focused on looking for creative and effective ways to address health issues specifically related to refugees and new Canadians.

Zihindula was born in the village of Ciruko in the Walungu District in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The villages surrounding Ciruko have been at the centre of armed conflicts, where the majority of people are widows and orphans and systematic looting, extortion, kidnapping, killings and rape allegedly perpetrated by rebels, continues.

“In my village, there is no health centre, and the government hospital is located about 60 kilometres away, a very long walk,” Zihindula said.

“When I was young, he used to pray to God to give my mom a long life so that she could see me growing into an adult and take responsibility for taking care of her, the way she, as a single mother, always took care of me.”

Zihindula’s mother passed away prematurely due to a condition that was preventable with proper medical care.

Now established in Canada and living in Kitchener, Zihindula continues to raise awareness about issues such as the lack of health care in Ciruko, the need to provide basic lifesaving procedures, and the lack of food security.

His dream is to find the necessary resources to build a health clinic and classroom.

And Gordon wants to help.

“I had actually given Justin a ride to Kingston for the retreat. So, four hours of listening to his stories of the terrible plight of his country and village, it was very compelling. It’s hard to say no to that,” Gordon said.

“He said he needed my help and I thought, well, I don’t really know anything about that stuff. He said, well, you do know how to make things happen."

Gordon says he might not have a background in the health field, but as an elected official in Guelph and as an independent entrepreneur, he began to think of ways of putting his facilitation skills to work, to try to bring interested parties together, people who could help make the Tumaini Letu DRC project a reality.

Gordon travelled to neighbouring Rwanda in January and met with a health practitioner there, also from the DRC, with experience in developing a similar project.

"It would take about $12,500 to get this up and going. The one organization that I met with in Kigali, Rwanda, knows how to be cost effective in bringing in the help that's needed," Gordon said.

The Tumaini Letu DRC project is now an official non-profit organization and Gordon says he is proud to serve on its board of directors.

Gordon has also developed a GoFundMe campaign, 'Bring back the Smile to Tumaini Letu Drc'.

“You can start small to help fill the immediate needs and then try to find ways of helping that will go further in that village, and that are sustainable,” Gordon said.

Gordon's double book launch on March 29 will also provide an opportunity to raise awareness to his campaign.

His novel, The Ark of the Oven Mitt was a finalist in last year’s Stephen Leacock Humour Award, but the pandemic prevented a proper in-person launch.

“The first book was the main effort. The second book is a collection of road stories that I had been collecting for years. When the first book generated quite a bit of interest, I thought well, I think I have a follow-up in the back burner. It makes sense to just launch them both at once," Gordon said.

Both books have a unique innovation: a QR code that leads to songs that follow the story.

“Because the subject of the novel is about a Canadian band touring, and they write songs along the way, I thought well let’s actually have them do some songs. It’s a nice angle because I think people know my music, so it seemed to be a nice combo,” Gordon said.

As for the Congo project, Gordon hopes his energy can help make a difference.

“In my roles as politician, activist, and advocate, you spend a lot of energy, especially at the political level, sitting in meetings and developing policies. If I can use the skill set I’ve developed, then maybe I can help bring people together and raise awareness,” Gordon said.

“This for me is simple. If there is an immediate need, then that means there must be an immediate solution.”

The James Gordon double book launch will take place at the Bookshelf Cinema on March 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.