In 1991 in the midst of the first Gulf War between the United States, Kuwait and Iraq, Hanah Howlett McFarlane, almost four years old, attended a peace walk in Toronto with her parents. Later, on the evening when word came that the war had ended, her parents woke her from her sleep to show her the news on television.
“I felt like I had been personally responsible,” she said, remembering, with a smile.
And that was how she began to know she could make a difference.
“We can’t just sit back and hope that someone else will fix the world,” Hanah said, in a recent interview with JOURNEY Magazine. “You can write a letter, sign a petition and something changes. It doesn’t always work, but for the few times it does, it’s worth it.”
Hanah, now 30, is one of three young women in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, Ontario, who received the Jessica Melnik Young Women of Impact Award (see below) recently from Red Pashmina Inc, a local non-profit organization which raises funds for the education of women and children in Afghanistan and, at home in Canada, recognises the community efforts of women.
With social justice as an undercurrent in both her parents’ families, she has been “steeped in the culture” from a young age and is known for her many community contributions and volunteer work.
Hanah now works as the manager of philanthropy and fund development at the Peterborough Community Counselling and Resource Centre (CCRC). The job involves encouraging individuals to donate, finding financial grants, organizing fund-raising events, and securing corporate sponsorships. It also includes educating people about the Centre’s work.
The CCRC, she explains, is a “well-kept secret, unfortunately”. It serves 7,000 people a year but the issues that bring people to it are often stigmatized, “and very few people actually know about it unless they’ve used it themselves,” she said. “It can’t showcase individual stories or have the typical ‘puppy dog image’ used to raise money by other groups. But we do try to tell the stories of our clients with confidentiality and dignity.”
“And its mission resonates with me,” Hanah said. “I feel really passionate about the work we do at CCRC, and I love to be out and meeting with different people.”
Hanah held the voluteer position of chair of the board of COIN — a local economic development initiative — until it recently folded due to lack of funding.
“It’s a challenge of all non-profits,” she said.”They are scrambling to find a way to do this incredibly important work on a shoestring budget.”
Born in Toronto, Hanah moved to Lakefield when she was eight, and then her parents bought a farm in Warsaw when she was 17. She spent one year at the University of Toronto studying voice and music education, but “I felt like I’d been whisked away from paradise, so I made my way back to Peterborough and finished my degree, majoring in Anthropology at Trent University.”
It was a broad spectrum of education at Trent with access to different perspectives, connections to other ways of thinking and new ideas, and a “bunch of unofficial minors”, she said, including a focus on linguistics. She is at present studying part-time for her Master’s degree in Education.
Her father, Bruce McFarlane, is a web designer and volunteer firefighter, and her mother, Susan Howlett, co- founded Kawartha Community Midwives in 1995. Her step-grandmother, Sheila Nabigon-Howlett, is also a well-known community activist. Hanah has one younger sister, Naomi Howlett, living in Ottawa.
Other volunteer gigs have included political organizing, helping out at Showplace and Market Hall and other art and cultural groups in the city, and singing with the Peterborough Singers. She is interested in Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships and roles and educating students about colonialism, and allowing Indigenous students to have their own education, “not so much stomping on culture that we’ve seen for the last 100 years”.
She is also the past-chair of Peterborough Area Fundraisers Network, which offers a collaborative approach to philanthropy and fund-raising among local agencies.
For Hanah, feminism means equity as opposed to equality.
Her understanding of feminism and social justice are the same, she said. It’s making sure that people are supported in the way they need to be, not with a cookie-cutter, shoe-fits-all approach, but one that accommodates people so they can live out their dreams and their passions.
For her, feminism means equity as opposed to equality. It’s the idea that people have what they need to be able to succeed, which might not necessarily be the same thing for everyone. For example, women with children might have different needs and flexibility in the work place, she said.
“It’s very easy for women of my generation to forget what’s happened. There’s a history of generations of women before us and before them who have worked very hard. Even if we don’t feel oppression, we have to remember the history and also how easy it is to fall back.”
She also is interested in community well-ness and well-being and the “underlying systemic oppression that works against us.”
When not busy in the community, she and partner, Evan Brockest, and Gus, their dog, enjoy a simple life, living in the city, but spending time and growing their own food at the family farm.
Red Pashmina Inc. recently celebrated three community-nominated young women — Keara Lightning, Hanah McFarlane and Sneha Wadhwani – with the presentation of the 2017 Jessica Melnik Young Women of Impact Award. The award honours local women under 30 who embody compassion, tenacity, quiet confidence and the ability to shine their light on those around them while encouraging others to do the same.
Their nominators shared the inspirational impacts of these women within their circles and broader community, and demonstrated the value of bringing together, uplifting and encouraging diverse young change-makers of Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, while at the same time showing their commonalities and potential with women in Afghanistan and around the world.
Many thanks to community members based at Trent Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge & Science (TRACKS), the Community Counselling & Resource Centre (CCRC), and Kawartha World Issues Centre (KWIC) for putting forward and sharing a snapshot of Keara, Hanah & Sneha’s vital stories so eloquently.
A big thank you and recognition is also extended to Kyla Gutsche and family, whose enthusiastic support, ideas and contributions first made this award a reality.
It is hoped that we may all continue to reflect upon and share publicly about the meaningful young women in our lives, and that it will embolden the celebration, connection, encouragement & possibilities of all women, near and far, in their many diversities, challenges and accomplishments!
By Melodie McCullough