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Local resident honoured for overseas volunteerism

Durham resident Bruce McPherson has been announced as a recipient of The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers which is given to Canadians who have promoted and embodied the values and ideals of volunteerism. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Bruce McPherson has spent most of his retirement volunteering overseas and helping others, and now he’s being recognized for his efforts.

McPherson recently found out he is being awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, and he couldn’t be happier.

“I was astounded actually because I didn’t expect any recognition of the work I’d been doing,” says McPherson. “I’ve been very pleased with my volunteer work, but I didn’t realize there was a mechanism for one that my name got into the mix somehow or other… So it was very surprising, very rewarding to me internally.”

He says as a volunteer one does not always feel the direct satisfaction of what they’re doing, but “to have a national recognition…you don’t have that very often.”

The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers is given to Canadians who have promoted and embodied the values and ideals of volunteerism.

McPherson currently volunteers with the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) as a volunteer advisor, a role he’s held for more than seven years.

He has applied his project management experiences to help cultivate sustainable growth for several small and medium-sized businesses.

McPherson has been all over the world, spending time in Asia, and Latin America as well as aiding Indigenous communities at Canada.

CESO itself is an “economic development engine growing sustainable, inclusive businesses, and strengthening government infrastructure,” according to their website.

It was originally founded in 1967 and is a not-for-profit organization.

McPherson lives with his wife of 48 years, Jennifer, and they have three daughters to go along with six grandchildren.

Prior to working with CESO, McPherson says he spent 10 years working overseas on Canadian projects related to small business development in the Middle East.

“It was a great opportunity for me to come back to Canada and to be able to use that experience that I’d had and knowledge in a practical way and volunteerism,” says McPherson.

At first he worked in northern Canada with Inuit populations, then moved on to international work in the Phillipines.

He’s also been to countries such as Mongolia, Ethiopia, and countries in Africa.

Most recently he says he was in Myanmar, calling it “an interesting opportunity there.”

While working with CESO he has had two different positions, as he has worked on assignment in those various countries, but also was stationed at their headquarters in Toronto.

“The most rewarding has been as a lead volunteer advisor,” says McPherson. “That happened about four years ago, and the difference is that you shift from actually doing the assignment as a volunteer advisor to planning and leading the whole initiative.”

He says with the Philippines and Myanmar, he is the lead volunteer advisor for the department of trade and industry.

For McPherson,  the Philippines jumps out as one of his favourite countries he’s visited.

“The wonderful people are so willing to learn, they’re so receptive to new ideas, and it’s been a very positive experience to work in the Philippine program with the people,” he says.

During his work, he’s conducted several evaluations (of what???)

“What’s been really exciting is to see the results that have actually happened to improve the family income, the women’s position in the family, and the stability of cooperatives or small businesses because of what we’ve done,” he says.

He says it’s also exciting to periodically go the countries he’s visited as a volunteer because he never expected to even see these countries, let alone do volunteer work there.

McPherson’s travels began far before his volunteer work, as he spent 10 years working in Egypt.

Of course, this meant his wife and two of their daughters went with him.

While the initial response from his daughters was not optimistic, eventually their time in Egypt was such a positive experience, as one of them met her husband there.

McPherson says one of his daughters taught at a school while there, and the other went to a school and graduated from the Cairo American College in front of the Pyramids.

“In a word, Egypt was just wonderful,” Jennifer recalls. “The Egyptian people were very warm, and welcoming.”

Both of them noted they had moved away from Egypt before the revolution in 2011, when various youth groups in Egypt began protests against the rise of police brutality under the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The protests eventually resulted in clashes with police and the resignation of Mubarak.

However, one of their daughters was still living there, but managed to get out of the country before the violence escalated.

“It was very traumatic actually,” she says. “Tanks in the street, guns going off. She got out pretty fast, but it was pretty frightening.”

The McPhersons are waiting patiently to find out when Bruce will be getting the award, but have still received much support from family and friends in the meantime.

“My family and friends have been honouring me as a result of [the award],” says McPherson. “They know Dad had been toiling away doing all these different things and travelling and such, but didn’t really know what the heck I was doing.”

At the ceremony, McPherson will be presented with the award by Julie Payette, the current Governor General.

“I was just so happy for him and honoured [when he was told about the award],” says Jennifer. “I was just thrilled. It’s wonderful.”