Exclusive Interview With George Stroumboulopoulos
Community Distinguished Canadian journalist George Stroumboulopoulos discusses his plans and how he gets involved during the holidays.
George Stroumboulopoulos holds a distinguished career in Canadian media and journalism that has earned him six Gemini Awards and a Canadian Screen award. He was the host and executive producer of his own show on CBC called “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.” Now Stroumboulopoulos, or more commonly referred to as Strombo, is hosting Apple Music’s “House of Strombo,” and CBC Radio 2’s “The Strombo Show.”
Stroumboulopoulos is also the Canadian National Ambassador for Hunger, part of the United Nations World Food Programme, the Ambassador for Prince’s Canadian Responsible Business Network, and has been involved in charity work for Canada for Haiti, CAP/AIDS, War Child Canada, and Make Poverty History.
Mediaplanet: What are your plans this holiday season? How is giving back part of that?
George Stroumboulopoulos: With my mom and my family, Christmas Eve is really important to me. Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house, that was the thing. She’s passed now, so Christmas seems a bit strange without her. So for me, it’s all about making sure that we’re all there on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is people that I used to work with at MuchMusic and the Hour and GST (George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight), we meet every Christmas, and at night we go see a film.
Christmas is when you can get a lot of people’s attention. There’s a lot of stuff that we do that is winter related. I have a close connection to, in my life and friends and family, to the homeless community and mental health issues. I recognize that, to me, when it gets cold out, I think of them. I think, “Right, things must be done.”
What got you interested in working with charities and getting involved?
GS: When I was a kid, I was raised by a single mother. I’ve watched most of my life I’ve watched her working on behalf of others. She instilled in my sister and I, at very young ages, do stuff. It’s really important that you make sure that you are working on behalf of [others]. My mom, my aunt, my uncle, they brought that mentality over. I always grew up thinking community.
MP: What charities do you presently work with? What are you doing with them currently?
GS: I work with the World Food Program, I’m their Ambassador in Canada. I work with the Prince Charles’ Prince’s Trust charities in Canada, that’s an Ambassador role. I’m on the Canadian Board for Artist’s for Peace and Justice. It’s all different. My job is to try to raise awareness and raise money, and then empower people.
MP: How did you choose which charities to get involved with?
GS: It all comes down to the same thing — you have to fight poverty, and you have to recognize that poverty is sexist. So all these different organizations tackle it in different ways, I like that. I don’t just want to be focused on one thing, everything works in conjunction in with another thing. I didn’t want to work with groups that I don’t trust. I don’t want to use my voice and be ineffective. I’m not that interested in being the public face of something unless there’s actual change.
MP: Why do you choose to give back through working with charities?
GS: I’m grateful for the fact that I can make a living doing this line of work. I think every citizen no matter who they are, ought to do something, but if you’ve been particularly lucky, you really ought to do more.
MP: Why should someone give back? What are the benefits of giving back during the holiday season?
GS: You should just do it. It’s your job. Your responsibility as a human being is to be there for other people. Doesn’t matter how you benefit. It’s irrelevant. In fact, remove yourself from the equation. Just do the work. Be in service of others. However, not everyone is wired that way. There are a million reasons that you should do something, and there’s a reason that will ring true to you, there is an organization, there is a place, where you can find a footing that is important to you.
MP: What can giving back to charities during the holiday season accomplish?
GS: I think a lot of people think that [other] people donate a lot more than they actually do. There’s still a lot of people in need, and there’s a lot of work to do. What’s good about the holiday season is that it’s top of mind for a lot of people. The extra push doesn’t hurt. I think especially around Christmas, it’s really about children. There’s a lot of reminders around Christmas to somebody who is poor that they are poor.
MP: What are some moments that have really stood out to you that resulted from you getting involved?
GS: I was in Northern [and] all over Pakistan, things were still pretty hot in terms of political strife, military strife. A flood had come in and wiped out villages. You have that, but you also have the Taliban. And I remember interviewing an Imam, we were in this open air place, had walls, no roof. And he was telling me this story about how, [it] had a roof, but the Taliban had come and burned it down because he was preaching peace, and they killed his daughter. And then he cries, but then he gets himself together, and he keeps on telling his story. It was unwavering in his conviction for good, positive change. It was impactful. The thing is that there is so many [stand out moments], all of the time, that you just have to strengthen up a little and get ready for the next one.
MP: What is your advice for someone who wants to get involved during the holiday season? In what ways can a person get involved and contribute?
GS: It’s really important to believe in yourself, just recognize that big or small, your participation matters. And there are people who need you. If you’re in a position to help, help. But believe that you’ll make a difference, because you will.
Get off the couch. Just do it. I find it’s really effective when you bring a few people together. A lot of people might need a community run. There are lots of places that need you. Find the one that works for you the most. It doesn’t have to be a big organization. You can organize it yourself, on your street, anything that starts the ball going is good.
MP: What might be some misconceptions or knowledge gaps that someone may have when approaching charity during the holidays?
GS: I think that a lot of people feel like someone else is doing it. A lot of time in the holiday season, there isn’t enough food to go around. A big misconception is that someone else got this, that they don’t need me, they’re on it. No, no, they need you. Another misconception is that your impact doesn’t matter. But I’ve heard that my whole life, every generation says that the problem is too big to fix or whatever. Another is that you can do it once and it’s over, problem solved, [or that] the government is on this, because they’re not. There are many things about this country that are great but there many things about this country that need to be better, and it won’t get better until we do it.