Last month, the Herald ran a front-page story about Racha El-Dib, who is honouring her late sister Nadia’s memory by helping other survivors of domestic violence get their lives back from abusers.
Nadia was killed by an ex-boyfriend, a tragic result of abuse that Racha has struggled to come to grips with since her death earlier this year.
Helping women who feel trapped in a relationship is a way of keeping her sister’s spirit alive, and she has built a relationship with local charity Gems for Gems to help accomplish her goal.
The organization was founded by Jordan Guildford just four years ago but today boasts an ambassador program of volunteers across Alberta, in British Columbia and Nova Scotia all eager to support her in trying to end the cycle of domestic abuse for as many women and their children as possible.
Guildford, along with her sister and brother, grew up in the small town of Scott’s Bay in Nova Scotia on a small hobby farm that at times was not able to provide the family with the bare necessities. But she says there was plenty of humility, kindness and compassion along with big doses of truth, honour and courage; principles by which she has tried to live her life.
After moving to Calgary she was surprised to be invited to a dinner party where guests were asked to pick a ‘wish’ from a Christmas tree to find that kids were asking for $100 and more.
And that was just for children. So Guildford asked, “what about the mothers?” Finding there was no program for less-fortunate mothers she remembered a Christmas at home when she and her siblings pooled their money to buy their mother a little piece of jewelry.
She says her mother was so touched, she disappeared for a while and came back into the room with her hair done and lipstick on because she felt so good.
That memory caused Guildford to start collecting gently used jewelry to give to women in shelters. She tried leaving a collection box at a prominent recreation centre but was refused. Undaunted, she knocked on other doors and was welcomed by an Orange Theory Fitness location, and “they were all over it.”
Trainers helped promote the cause to their classes, and that first Christmas, Guildford and her husband Tommy along with a couple of friends were able to fill 436 little bags of jewelry and deliver them to women in Calgary shelters.
Thanks to the passion of Guilford and her supporters, response to Gems for Gems has mushroomed. Last Christmas more than 4,000 gifts were delivered to women spending their holiday in shelters across Canada.
It also caught the attention of the movie world and Guilford was invited to be one of the feature charities at this year’s Oscars in Los Angeles. She was also asked to present her charity in a booth at the Toronto Film Festival, where award-winning actress Sheila McCarthy, who played Sarah Hamoudi in Little Mosque on the Prairie, became an instant supporter and a celebrity ambassador to Gems for Gems.
Zero to Hero was created to empower women within shelters to gain confidence to empower themselves to get a new start on life.
Women are offered the help of a psychologist, motivational speaker, financial planner, business management expert and 11-time world champion kick-boxer Maeghan Cotterill to teach self-defence.
Gems for Gems has no budget, no one is paid, but Guildford, her ambassadors and volunteer board led by Brian Foster, former executive director of Operation Eyesight, are making a difference. And they keep finding new ways to help the fight against domestic abuse.
The newest program is the offering of a scholarship — the first in honour of Nadia El-Dib — to send a woman to college for a year; a cost that Guildford is hoping to find corporate sponsors to support.
Think Asia, Think Hong Kong, an update on how to use Hong Kong as the business hub to tap opportunities in Asia, is the topic at an HKCBA luncheon Oct. 24 at the Bow Valley Club. Speakers are Andrew Yui, of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, and Florence Tsang, of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.