Ashcroft resident Esther Lang is one of this year’s recipients of the Province of B.C.’s Medal of Good Citizenship, part of a group of 31 individuals and one group from 21 B.C. communities being recognized for their “outstanding contributions to the well-being of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
When the pandemic started in March 2020, Lang was an integral part of establishing the COVID-19 Helpline (now the Community Helpline) made up of volunteers from local organizations trying to “fill in the gaps” for local residents who needed assistance. In addition to answering calls from people in need, she helped coordinate and provide services, volunteering countless hours in order to pick up groceries, prescriptions, and mail for people who could not leave their homes, and providing transportation locally and to Kamloops for those who needed it.
“The COVID line was mainly for people who couldn’t get out because they were so fearful of COVID,” says Lang. “Then it morphed into a helpline number, matching people up with services they need. It was there for people who had fallen through the cracks, and it’s changed over time.”
Lang has quietly been providing transportation for those who need it since before the pandemic started.
“I was giving friends lifts to Kamloops, and word gets passed around. A lot of the people I’ve transported to Kamloops are people I don’t know. I had a person involved in health care call and ask if I could take someone for cataract surgery. This person had no transportation, so they called me, and it just sort of started.
“Once you’ve offered for one person it just keeps going.”
Her awareness of the transportation options in the region led Lang to compile a leaflet listing all the transportation services — public and private — in the area, which is available through a wide variety of local businesses and organizations.
”People aren’t aware of the options, so they’ll ask ‘How can I get to Vancouver?’ It involved a lot of research, but it needed to be put together.”
Filling in the gaps is something that Lang has been doing for many years. She arrived in Ashcroft in September 1971 to take up her first teaching position (“I had to look it up on the map to see where it was!” she laughs), and spent her entire career at Ashcroft Elementary School, retiring in January 2006. During her long career there were many times when she found herself teaching one generation, then teaching their children years later.
“I always wanted to teach,” she says. “I taught French, and was a teacher-librarian, but I mainly taught grades 4 to 7. Those grades share my sense of humour, and I always got along with them.”
Lang was on the board of the Thompson View Manor Society for seven years, and is chair of the Community Resource Society after several years as vice-chair. For 10 years she has organized the annual Christmas Hamper program for CRS, which sees nearly 200 hampers distributed to people and families throughout the region.
Last year presented a challenge with the Spences Bridge hampers, as the November 2021 flooding hit just as hamper applications were scheduled for the area. Lang took it in stride.
“There were no phones, and we had to change the venue for applications because of COVID, so if someone called us and said ‘So-and-so needs a hamper’ we’d just take the name.” To ensure that no one in need was missed, five extra hampers were sent to The Packing House for anyone who needed them.
It wasn’t the first time in 2021 that Lang assisted people affected by disasters; CRS helped with disaster relief for Lytton and Spences Bridge. Lang helped coordinate an evacuation strategy for people in Ashcroft who did not have transportation in the event that an evacuation was necessary.
“There were people who were fearful about getting out, so we called to see if school buses could be available and talked with the village and established a list of names at the HUB.”
Lang’s volunteer work has not just been in and around Ashcroft. She has long been active in the Evangelical Free Church of Canada and their overseas missions and work, and for 11 years starting in 2009 spent several weeks each summer volunteering as a teacher at their Summer English Institute in Dnipro, Ukraine; it only came to an end after summer 2019 because of COVID. She also served as director of the institute for three years.
“It was advertised that they were looking for people, so I sent in an application and was accepted in 2009,” she says. “I grew up in Doukhobor country, and my neighbours all spoke Russian.”
Dnipro is about 100 kilometres from the embattled Donbas region of Ukraine, and Lang says that Dnipro has been bombed a few times in recent days.
“When I was there I felt very safe, even though I didn’t speak the language. I was there for a month at a time, mainly in July, teaching people aged 16 and up. Some of them were learning English for work purposes, some were increasing their vocabulary, some spoke English fairly well but were trying to lose their accent.
“It’s an experience. It probably doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s been interesting.”
Also in 2019, Lang spent 12 days in Cuba, helping to unpack and then repack for distribution goods that had been sent there. “There were tools and kitchen supplies, clothes and toys, sports equipment, medical equipment. Pastor Paul Ford was was looking for work teams, so he put out a request for people to go with him to help out.”
The citation from the Province says that “Esther Lang defines good citizenship and is a volunteer extraordinaire. She has a remarkable pulse on her community and on the world around her and respects the rights and values of others… Esther steps up time and time again and does so much for so many with a wonderfully humble attitude.”
Lang is characteristically modest about receiving the award. She is only the second person in the region to receive it; the first was Cache Creek fire chief Clayton Cassidy in 2016.
“I’ve basically volunteered for all sorts of things ever since I arrived in Ashcroft,” she says. “It’s just something I do, the way I am, and I don’t do these things to be recognized. And nothing is accomplished on your own.”
You can watch the online presentation of Lang’s Medal of Good Citizenship starting at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 24 on the Province of B.C.’s YouTube channel at https://bit.ly/3umSaVx.