Retired teacher donates time to local, national and international causes

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Jan Sosiak says a hero is "somebody who steps out of their own personal world to step into someone else's and help their life improve in some way." Photo by Nikolai Karpinski, Hidden Heroes: Faces of Quinte.

BELLEVILLE – Writing letters, serving lunches and driving Syrian refugees to language classes are a few of the ways that Jan Sosiak helps in the community.

Sosiak says it's important to be involved locally, nationally and internationally. As a Canadian, she feels responsible for some of the problems happening throughout the world, she says.

“Well, the world is a small place – I think we’re learning that more and more. When I was growing up we didn’t know much about people in China or Africa. We knew those countries existed but we didn’t know the level of poverty or what caused it, which is mainly us. People in North America have caused a lot of the poverty. I just feel responsible in some ways for what’s happened, because we're using too much of the world's resources," says Sosiak when asked why she is concerned about international affairs.

This month, Jan Sosiak's letter was addressed to a Mexican politician calling for an investigation into the murder of a community leader and asking him to ensure the protection of a group of indigenous people. Photo by Nikolai Karpinski, Hidden Heroes: Faces of Quinte.

Sosiak is the secretary of the Belleville Amnesty International branch and drafts a letter each month as part of the organization's Write for Rights campaign.

"I've always been concerned when human-rights are violated, so Amnesty International was a good fit for me," says Sosiak.

While one letter may not make much of a difference, thousands of letters can certainly have an effect, she says.

The retired elementary-school teacher also volunteers her time twice a month serving food with the Salvation Army's lunch program.

She's dismayed that so many people here can't afford to eat properly and have to rely on food banks, she says.

"We shouldn't need food banks – not in a country as rich as Canada. But they're necessary – people still need to be fed," she says. "It's sad to see more seniors and young kids coming in desperate for food."

Sosiak is a Belleville native. She's been married to her husband, Paul Sosiak, for over 40 years. Together the couple raised three adopted children.

Asked what she likes about Belleville, Sosiak said, “I like the fact that it’s a small community and you can get to know neighbours. I was glad to raise my children in a situation like this."

At the same time, Sosiak says, Belleville struggles with issues of race. "We have three adopted children and they're all mixed race – part black – and there was a lot of racism in Belleville while they were growing up. I think that racism is still around to some extent, because I hear comments, pretty miserable comments, directed at some of the Muslim families coming to the area.”

Sosiak is working to help one of those families, driving a family of Syrian refugees to English language classes.

"It’s been a rewarding experience. The family is so grateful and generous themselves. And the Muslim community here in Belleville – I was not aware of how strong it was. They have gone overboard with the support. They always have a translator available,” says Sosiak.

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