This post was written by Chloë Straw, Project Research Assistant.
The Engaging Diasporas in Development Project held its third dialogue, Education for Development, on May 18th, 2011. Ten impassioned storytellers recounted a mosaic of personal anecdotes that served to explore three central questions: (1) what kind of education is needed for development? (2) How do educational projects create opportunities and choices? And (3) what is unique and inspiring about diaspora-led educational strategies for development?
The evening commenced with a warm welcome and introduction to the project from co-directors Shaheen Nanji and Dr. Joanna Ashworth. Invoking the words of the influential Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, Dr. Ashworth spoke of education as a dialogue between people, based on the facts of their lives, which should not be confused or contorted into a banking system that “makes deposits of knowledge into others.” She also stated that, education is “an act of freedom” and that, for the purposes of the evening, ‘development’ should simply be understood as “the process of change, from one state to another.”
Next, co-moderator and CUSO-VSO public engagement officer, Umeeda Switlo provided a warm introduction to the first two storytellers.
We heard first from Randolph-Dalton Hyman, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University who is using his passion and skill as a dancer to reinvigorate traditional African dance education in communities within his birth country of Jamaica. “It was through dance that I discovered myself,” Randolph explained, “it took me to a world of spirituality, of politics of discovery and to a sense of who I was and where I was going.”
Also speaking to the power of the arts, youth leader Nasra Mire, whose family journeyed from Somalia to the Middle East to Canada, spoke of how art education helped her find focus and drive. “It was in high school that I discovered a fascination for art. It helped me find a direction and find my place,” she recounted. Nasra, along with her sister, Hawa, transformed this inspiration into a non-profit organization, Point Youth Media, designed to empower youth in Vancouver through art and media training. Retaining their connection to their birth region, all of the training programs they develop in Vancouver are brought to East Africa through their connections there.
Turning to the larger group of audience participants to hear their educational stories, everyone was asked to reflect upon the following questions: What does education for development mean to you? In what way have you developed through education?
A buzz of excited storytelling filled the auditorium as people turned to their neighbours to share their own insights. The following word cloud image was created using some of the responses that participants shared with the larger group.
Youth in sport leader, James Kamau spoke next and explained how is organization Youth Initiative Canada has found a way to teach valuable life skills like self-discipline, teamwork and commitment to hard work to the African youth they aim to serve.
Keeping with the theme of hard work, Cecil and Ruth Hershler of Education without Borders told their own story of a deep, forty-year involvement with a school in the township of Gugulethu, South Africa. “We started working with this school when we were privileged white university students. We’ve gone through rebuilding the school, introducing art programs, visioning with the teachers and students and, now, focusing on academics,” Cecil explained. Drawing attention to the region’s 60% unemployment rate, Cecil spoke to the need to give young people the choice of completing trades training rather than the conventional focus on academics to improve students’ chances for success once they leave school.
Next up was Joselyne John, a fourth year Health Sciences student who came to Canada through the World University Service of Canada’s Student Refugee Program. Holding a small silver globe in her hand, she told her story, “I have this globe in my hand because education means the world to me,” she said with an enormous smile. “It creates life choices and opportunities, especially for individuals who are in impossible situations.”
Picking up on this thread of seemingly impossible situations, Umeeda introduced Omar Kaywan from the non-profit Beacon of Hope that works to create opportunities for children in Afghanistan. “Education is the enabler,” Omar explained, “Our programs focus on street children who are tasked with being the breadwinners of their families through selling whatever they can find.” Through the support of Beacon of Hope, these children are able to go to school full-time and provide their families with nutritional food, in addition to taking part in extracurricular tutoring in math and English.
Echoing many others, Amos Kambere, founder of the Umoja Operation Compassion Society, spoke of education as the key to development and made the point that the unique role of the diaspora is to bring the perspective of the developing world. “We started a school in Uganda,” he said, “You get your diaspora connecting to their local village and this impact expands and helps to develop the whole nation.”
Adding to this notion of the imperative role that diasporic leaders play in development, Dr. Charles Quist-Adade, a professor at Kwantlen University, spoke of identifying himself as a transnational, “I live in the global village,” he explained, “and my biography was not written in isolation. I grew up with you. And now here I am, teaching the future leaders of my new country.”
A lively discussion ensued, with participants speaking about the need to go beyond education as individual change to education as a systematic change. Dr. Farah Shroff summed up the evening’s remarks by reminding us that this change must come from a “genuine desire to lift us all up,” as she put it, and that we need to “learn from our heads and our hearts” in order to work towards collective empowerment. “Each of our lived experiences informs us,” she said, “We can take them to inform our government. We’re walking that tense line—seeing that education holds this great promise, but that it’s not there yet.”
Finally, Randolph-Dalton Hyman jumped in once again to help us feel the great promise of our collective empowerment as he danced all of the participants around and out of the auditorium to a familiar reggae beat.
The next dialogue, “Human Insecurity and Peacebuilding” will be on July 13th, 2011. For more information and to register please visit our website.
What do you think? What role should and does education play in development? Do diaspora have a unique contribution to bring to development?