Mothers Paula Muise and Jeanne Doucette are spreading the word about a Walk Against Bullying event planned for Yarmouth on Sept. 12.
TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
When Jeanne Doucette and her son left their home last year for an anti-bullying walk that she had planned just two days earlier, her son asked the question, “Mom, are we going to be the only two there?”
Doucette remembers telling him, “I don’t think so, but if we are, that’s okay. And if you want to sit in the car, that’s okay. I’ll walk for you.”
But when they got to the Yarmouth parking lot where the walk was to begin, they weren’t alone. There were parents, grandparents, young children, teenagers and adults. Even the junior A Mariners hockey team had turned out.
Doucette was overwhelmed and overjoyed.
“There was 90-plus people,” she says. “It was amazing.”
Doucette had wanted to create awareness about the issue of bullying because it was something her son had been dealing with. Now she and others are planning a second Walk Against Bullying. The need for awareness, Doucette says, continues.
“We’re out there to be voices for the people who don’t have a voice or don’t dare to speak out,” she says.
Doucette and Paula Muise – Muise’s daughter endured hurtful bullying that forced her to switch elementary schools – are excited when they talk about the Walk Against Bullying, which will take place on Starrs Road the evening of Thursday, Sept. 12. They’re excited because of the support and awareness the walk is already generating, even though it’s still months away.
But with the excitement for the support comes the sadness for the cause – sadness over the fact that bullying is still so prevalent.
“Some people don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to get involved. They’ll say, ‘Let’s just see what happens. Let it lie.’ But you can’t,” Muise says. “If nobody is going to do something, then it is just going to keep going and going. Somebody has got to do something.”
They hope the walk, now an annual event, will help create awareness and get people to talk more openly about bullying and take action if they see bullying occurring. Doucette feels it is particularly important to teach the anti-bullying message to young children.
“I think we need to start with the little ones, then they realize it isn’t okay to do this,” she says. “But it’s not just the parents, it’s not just the schools. Everybody needs to get on board to help.”
Muise notes that the harm done from bullying never goes away, even if the bullying stops.
“It never leaves you, it stays with you forever,” she says, which is why just as it is important not to be the bully, it is equally important not to be the bystander who allows bullying to happen.
In more recent years – and in particular in more recent months – there has been particular emphasis paid to cyberbullying. This followed the death of Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who died after being taken off life support days after attempting suicide. After her death it was reported that she had been bullied and harassed after a photo of her, taken during an alleged gang rape, was circulated online. Not only was she victimized once, but it went on and on.
The public reaction and outrage following her death was tremendous. The RCMP reopened an investigation into the case. The Nova Scotia government introduced new legislation dealing with cyberbullying.
Muise says Parsons’ death was tragic. But also tragic is the fact that in so many of these cases, the caring, the compassion and the outrage comes when it’s too late.
One thing Muise and Doucette would also like to see happen locally, beyond just the walk, is the creation of a support group for kids so they can talk to one another and share their stories of bullying and how they handled it.
While some may feel comfortable talking with their parents about what is happening to them, not everyone does. And so many children may feel like they’re alone.
“They almost feel like it’s a shameful thing and they shouldn’t feel ashamed,” says Muise. “The people who are doing the bullying should feel ashamed, not the victim.”
The Sept. 12 Walk Against Bullying falls on Anti-bullying Day in Nova Scotia, also known as Pink Day. The Pink Day movement was born out of Central Kings Rural High School students David Shepherd and Travis Price standing up for a student who was being bullied because he wore a pink shirt to school. They went out and bought pink shirts for other students to wear as a show of solidarity.
People will be encouraged to wear pink during the Yarmouth walk.
Meanwhile, aside from a Facebook page promoting the walk – Walk Against Bullying Society – the group will also be spreading awareness of their cause by putting a float in the Seafest and Clare Acadian Festival parades. There will also be anti-bullying awareness promoted during the Western Nova Scotia Exhibition.
The group has been seeking donations from businesses and individuals to prepare their float and awareness materials.
“We're getting a lot of support,” says Doucette. “It’s just amazing.”
She knows when she and her son arrive for this year’s walk, they need not worry that they’ll be the only ones there.