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Brunei’s new envoy on a personal and professional mission

By Laura Beaulne-Stuebing      

Turkey's new ambassador seeks help for Syrian refugees, and World Vision Canada's CEO says goodbye.

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High Commissioner for Brunei Darussalam retired colonel Kamal Bashah Ahmad has the typical agenda for an envoy in a new country: improving bilateral relations, increasing education and investment ties, travelling and meeting people from Brunei or with ties to the country. But he has another more personal goal for his posting in Canada too.

Mr. Ahmad’s son, who is 11 years old, has autism. After retiring from the military three years ago, the new diplomat was deputy president of SMARTER Brunei, an organization that was set up by parents of autistic kids that does work to improve the lives of people with autism in his home country.

“You're doing great in Canada,” Mr. Ahmad said in an interview with Embassy on Oct. 7. “So I'm here also to learn.”

He was part of two other non-profit groups as well, one related to hockey and the other to Brunei and the Olympic Games; but SMARTER Brunei hits much closer to home.

The organization’s website says it has three centres in Brunei: two for early intervention and one for adults with autism.

Mr. Ahmad landed in Canada for the first time at the end of September, and is still just settling in. But he said he’s hoping to meet with organizations and individuals—including Conservative MP Mike Lake who does advocacy work with his son Jaden, who also has autism—in Canada. When one of your family members has autism, it’s personal.

Turkey looks for help for Syrian, Iraqi refugees

While Canada sorts out how it will contribute to fighting the threat of Islamic State militants in the Middle East, Selçuk Ünal, Turkey’s newly minted ambassador, is pressing for the international community to address the humanitarian crisis.

The number of refugees fleeing both Syria and Iraq has become a “humanitarian disaster,” Mr. Ünal said in an interview with Embassy at the Turkish Embassy on Oct. 7.

The border between Turkey and Syria is over 900 kilometres, he said, and flat, so it's easy to cross.

According to the embassy, about 1.4 million Syrian refugees are under Turkey's protection, which is more than 10 times the number of Syrians seeking refuge in European Union countries and in North America. About 220,000 Syrians are in shelters and are provided with food, health and education services and psychological help.

"The rest are being held by our local authorities, different departments, and NGOs, Turkish NGOs,” Mr. Ünal said. “It has become a big burden for us.”

The new ambassador said Turkey has spent more than $3.5 billion US to deal with the crisis, and is hoping for more support from other countries and international organizations. He added that the country is also helping Iraqi refugees—about 100,000 of them, he said—separately and within the same kind of assistance framework.

In March 2013 Turkey designated the Islamic State militant group as a terrorist organization and is concerned about the crisis that is literally at the country's doorstep.

“It's just next door,” Mr. Ünal said. “It is a threat to our national security as well.”

Aside from the IS concerns, Mr. Ünal has plenty on his plate for his Canadian posting, his first as an ambassador.

He’s looking forward to visits from the Turkish ministers of energy, agriculture and science and technology, promoting Turkey within Canada, reaching out to Canadians from Turkey and maybe—depending on the will and whims of the Canadian government—being able to see the drafting of a Canada-Turkey free trade agreement.

Mr. Ünal also said, despite only having visited Canada briefly when he was a spokesperson for Turkey’s ministry of foreign affairs, he thinks fondly of the country.

His parents lived in Vancouver between 1967 and 1969. His mother worked as a medical doctor and his late father worked at the University of Vancouver.

“Of course, in my first visit to Vancouver I will trace their footsteps as well,” he said.  

“I was born and raised with warm memories of Canadian society.”

World Vision Canada CEO departing after decades

After more than 40 years in the charity and aid world, Dave Toycen is hanging up his hat. The seasoned humanitarian is retiring from his job as World Vision Canada’s CEO within the next few months.

"It's extraordinary to see the passion people have to make a difference in the world," Mr. Toycen said in a phone interview, reflecting on his decades at the Christian relief, development and advocacy juggernaut.

"I feel blessed and privileged to have been able to work for 41 years with one federation…and meet so many extraordinary people," he added.

"Whether it's sitting in a little stick hut with a poor family, and being reminded again of how courageous the poor are and how they don't give up…to the passion and enthusiasm of our supporters here in Canada."

Mr. Toycen has spent 26 years in a leadership role with World Vision Canada, and the last 18 as president, the group's website states.

Over the course of his tenure, he's seen the number of children dying across the world because of hunger or hunger-related illnesses fall by more than half—from something like 40,000 or 45,000 daily, to 17,000 or 18,000, he said.

And he's seen the humanitarian sector change significantly.

"From an organizational standpoint…charities in general and the NGO sector are more professional," Mr. Toycen noted. "I think we have better process, I think we have better business practices than we've had in the past."

World Vision's board of directors is currently on the hunt for a new CEO. Mr. Toycen will say his final goodbye to the job when the candidate is chosen.

He's seen a myriad of conflicts and disasters, from Bangladesh and Cambodia to Uganda. The Ethiopian famine in 1984, he said, "in many ways was an event that changed humanitarian response in terms of the importance of media and engagement of celebrity." More recently, he helped in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The years of watching humanitarian disasters unfold, and seeing the way the world responds to them shift, has not hampered Mr. Toycen's hope or belief in the human spirit.

While he does take the bad that happens in the world seriously, Mr. Toycen says he's inspired by his faith.

"I'm a hopeful person. I do believe there's more good in the world than bad," he said, and that everyone has the opportunity to be part of solutions, not problems.


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