John Janzen was the lonely farmboy who would sit on the edge of the lake singing sad songs about what might be over the next hill. This led him to living and working in Winnipeg’s North End where he was involved in community work and inner city development, mostly as a teacher, and maybe a little bit as a white saviour. This, of course, ended in disaster which led to a long exile in Japan, where he wandered for a time bitter and disillusioned, seeking pleasure and the very best sushi.
Eventually though he found himself drawn back into the development world as the Creative Director for an international development agency, connecting Japanese donors with clean water and education projects in Cambodia and the southern Philippines. Using songs, videos, and storytelling, John employed artistic expression in aiding diverse and distant communities to get connected with each other, providing benefits that flowed in both directions.
Employing artistic expression as a fundamental for community building was a continued theme when John finally returned to Winnipeg in 2012. Working as the the Community Education Coordinator for Siloam Mission, John has spoken all over the province to thousands of students. Along with some of those students, he has taken his kids theatre show Blink’s Garden to Fringe festivals in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Toronto. Blink’s Garden, a story of two friends and their journey to see past huge dividing wall has been told in hundreds of classrooms around Manitoba, and was recently made into a 7 song CD and illustrated storybook.
Currently he continues to work with schools, universities, and community groups spreading the message that the answer to homelessness is stronger communities – characterized by people who understand that the world starts to change when we connect our lives to people who are not like us.
An Idea Worth Spreading
There are two types of poverty. One you can fix by “throwing money at the problem”; the other can only be fixed by connecting to people who are not like you.