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District hosts WHO president


The Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition and Rainy River Future Development Corp. were proud to have the president of the World Health Organization visit Rainy River District for three days this week--one of just two stops he’ll make in North American this year.

Dr. Leif Svanstrom’s visit is hoped to bring the district one step closer to RRVSC’s goal of becoming a WHO “Safe Community” by the year 2002.

Under the WHO Safe Community Accreditation program, in conjunction with the Safe Community Foundation of Canada, the district will be responsible for increasing awareness and improving safety programs on both sides of the border, and create resources for future injury programs and safety initiatives.

In turn, the district will have increased visibility on a national and international scale, bringing acclaim and new business opportunities.

A WHO convention here is one spin-off some are betting on.

“It’s a prestigious ‘club’ that communities and districts . . . can get involved in,” RRFDC projects co-ordinator Jeannette Cawston said yesterday at the Red Dog Inn, where a district-wide planning session, dubbed “Creating a Co-ordinated Community Vision,” was held.

“If we were to get that designation [as a ‘Safe Community’], we’d have success locally as well as on the road, and that’s a proud thing to do,” she added.

Only 36 communities in the world have been accredited so far.

The session at the Red Dog was attended by people from many fields where safety is a priority, as well as a number of high school students who would get a taste of project planning.

Dr. Svanstrom watched those on hand split into work groups to tackle a specific issue, such as a “seniors helping seniors” program, then they came together in the end to discuss how they would implement it on a district-wide scale.

The groups shared the plan with the rest of the groups for the benefit of Dr. Svanstrom, who would see how the community worked together and what sort of ideas they could quickly generate.

But RRVSC chairman Doug Anderson noted the plans developed went beyond the exercise.

“We usually take what we do with most seriousness. We go through with our planning session, and consider the possible applications,” he said.

Dr. Svanstrom, who teaches safety in the workplace at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, is a world authority on the subject. He said he enjoyed the planning session greatly.

“What they are doing here is an excellent example of a long-term coalition,” he noted. “You have a coalition working across 13 communities, gathering data on accidents. You need facts in order to make the right priorities and it’s very well-structured here.

“It’s vital to recognize the problems exist.”

The impact of an intensified focus on safety in the district not only would affect people’s well-being but also the economy of the communities as well.

“We’re trying to save money with worker’s compensation by using safety rebates,” noted Geoff Gillon of the Rainy River Future Development Corp.

“We have about 98 businesses participating [across the district], and we’re looking to save about a quarter of a million dollars a year with that,” he said. “From a business point of view, that’s profit.

“Instead of going into worker’s compensation, we’re putting money back into the business,” he stressed.

Yesterday’s agenda wrapped up last night with a dinner and reception at La Place Rendez-Vous, where Dr. Svanstrom was the keynote speaker.

The reception included Diane Maxey leading a choir of grades one-three from Sixth Street School in “O Canada” and two songs about safety. After dinner, an amusing and very-well acted play, “Pills & Spills,” was staged by the Committee for Seniors’ Safety.

Dr. Svanstrom’s speech began with humourous anecdotes but its core dealt with decreasing incidences of falls among senior citizens. He also discussed what it takes to become a “Safe Community.”

“To get designated is a long process,” he explained. “It has to be a sustained program. There are municipalities that have taken 10 years to get recognized.

“Do I decide if a community becomes a safe one? No,” Dr. Svanstrom continued. “The communities decide. We [the WHO] are just facilitators. This is the reason why you will stay alive and have a very good organization.”

Dr. Svanstrom spent Monday at the Manitou Mounds cultural centre for a potluck and reception, including traditional dances from the First Nation community.

He will spend the rest of his time here today visiting various workplaces and area communities.

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