BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing local support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect and community development initiatives. Some Mentors are also community development partners who collaborate with local agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of the people.
If her name sounds familiar to you, it tells us she’s doing a shining job with her networking in the community. If your memory of her name is subtler than that, and maybe you remember seeing it in E-Connector sometime in the past two or three years, it tells us you’re a long-time reader of this newsletter and you have an excellent memory.
We first profiled Devirani Naidoo back in February 2019 as one of our volunteers of the month. A lot of what was in that article still stands: Devirani still lives in the Fraser Valley, she still teaches dance, and she is still involved with the BC CRN, today as the Regional Mentor for the Fraser Valley East area, which serves the communities of Agassiz-Harrison, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Hope and Boston Bar, and Mission.
Devirani worked her way up to applying for her current role. She first volunteered back in 2017 when the It’s Not Right! program captured her interest. Thanks to then Regional Mentor Karen Bunner, Devirani quickly became the coordinator for the Agassiz-Harrison Community Response Network (CRN) a few months later. By the end of 2018, Karen retired and Devirani applied to be her successor. “It was a natural journey for me!” she says.
Her growth and development can also be plotted out step by step in that “natural journey”.
In 2017 as a volunteer, Devirani trained with the BC CRN to conduct It’s Not Right! and See Something, Say Something (formerly Gatekeeper) public presentations and workshops to learn more about adult abuse and neglect prevention, which fit nicely with her values of social justice, human rights, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
While her focus as a volunteer was on learning about adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, when Devirani became CRN Coordinator at the start of 2018, it shifted to listening. “The coordinator role really helped me develop my listening skills so I could understand the different voices in the community,” she says. “While the community may say it has several issues and concerns, the community also holds all the answers and solutions they need.”
From the coordinator role, where she concentrated on the needs of a single community, Devirani had to then broaden her focus to include several communities when she became a Regional Mentor. “You need a much wider lens because you are supporting many diverse communities,” she adds. “There is a mix of urban and remote locations, Indigenous and First Nations communities, and a variety of religious views and cultures in my region.”
The geography of her region was also severely impacted by climate change this year with record wildfires and catastrophic flooding making news headlines worldwide. “Climate change has added complexity to already complex work,” says Devirani. “The one positive stemming from these disasters is that it showed how people, no matter who they are and where they come from, can come together when things are bad.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than an area of work for Devirani. They are the core values and universal principles that help her navigate the world and shape the work she does with the BC CRN and a host of other local organizations – corporations, government, and non-governmental organizations – she partners with on anti-bullying, anti-harassment, human resources, and diversity initiatives.
The upsurge of public awareness on systemic racism, classicism, and privilege resulting from the culmination of pandemic pressures, Black Lives Matter, the Me-Too movement, residential schools, and anti-Asian hate has impacted community development work, likely and hopefully, for the better.
“I grew up in apartheid South Africa, justice and human rights were and still are very important to me,” she explains. “These principles formed the basis of my early work in human resources, and today, with my work advocating for seniors, refugees, and families in the community.”
“Current events are showing us that the western system serves a very narrow and specific population,” she continues. “With one in three Canadians self-identifying as an immigrant, we can no longer assume that a westernized approach serves and supports everyone. We are seeing that it doesn’t. The CRNs already know this.”
In her region’s CRNs, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront, creating environments for safe conversations, meaningful involvement, open access, and generous sharing. Small things, like offering multiple food options and ensuring wheelchair accessibility at events, are accommodated. “It’s about demonstrating respect to the values of the whole community,” says Devirani. “Abuse, neglect, and self-neglect don’t discriminate. We can’t either.”
Devirani spoke fondly of her grandfather, who was an anti-apartheid activist. “He could not afford a formal education, but he was so well-read. He got a job and put all his siblings and then his children through school. He was also very active in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa that led to the release of Nelson Mandela,” she recalls. “He loved people. Everyone was welcomed into his home. Feeding strangers was a frequent and very normal thing to do for him.”
Justice. Fairness. Compassion. Kindness.
The apple did not fall far from the proverbial tree.
In addition to dance, Devirani is a serious audiophile. Her music tastes are as diverse as her ancestry (She is indigenous African, Indian, and Caucasian.), her friendships, and the communities she supports.
“Music held us together during apartheid,” she explains. “The songs of encouragement helped us stay strong.”
Some of her favourite artists include Black South African singer Mariam Makeba (“She was one of the symbols of the anti-apartheid movement, and known as the Mother of Africa.”), beloved Indian singer and composer Lata Mangeshkar (“She was called the Queen of Melody and the Indian Nightingale.”), and American soul singer Donny Hathaway.
(Be sure to click the links above to sample some of the songs in Devirani’s playlist.)
“I listen to almost everything,” she says. “I’m into 40s and 50s music, rap, Motown, World music, classical…anything that you can dance to, that inspires you, and uplifts you!”
(Header photo: Devirani and fellow South African performers at a recent live show. Source: D. Naidoo)