On February 6, a panel discussion titled “Dialogue on the Importance and Impact of Local and International Community Engagement” took place, to raise awareness of the added value of community engagement for students. Panel members included Rebecca Tiessen, a full professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences, Gwen Madiba Moubouyi, 2019 Aeroplan campaign ambassador, three students who have experienced community engagement here or abroad, as well as Stéphane Cardinal, former director of the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, who served as facilitator. The event, organized by the Centre and the International Office, was also meant to encourage people to donate their Aeroplan Miles to help cover travel costs for students planning to volunteer abroad.
Carlie Boisvert, a fourth-year student in biomedical science, was the first to speak. She talked about the initiative she started in her home town of Val d’Or, Quebec, Projet-T. Funded by a university scholarship, the project aims to counter drop out rates and to help students succeed at a local high school. She also spoke about her experience with the Board of Governors as a student representative and with the executive committee of the former students federation.
Stéphanie Platero, a second-year communication student, discussed her experiences travelling and completing several international placements. After quitting her full-time job, she worked as a “WWOOFer” for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, in Costa Rica as well as other Latin American countries. Following a stay in Greece and Egypt, she discovered a passion for photography, which she made the most of during a uOGlobal placement, after returning to the University of Ottawa.
Ouatina Bamba, a second-year teacher education student, completed a placement in Abidjan, the capital of his home country, Ivory Coast. He worked as a resource teacher for children and teens aged six to 16 from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
As for Rebecca Tiessen, she presented statistics on international volunteering and experiential learning. She believes that Canada should develop a national global education strategy, so that funding will be available for students who need it.
Finally, Gwen Madiba Moubouyi spoke about her experiences as a journalist with La Rotonde while a student at uOttawa. For her master’s project, “Social Work Through Hip-Hop,” she worked with youth in the Congo and Haiti, as well as with Inuit in Nunavut.
Each panellist had advice for students who wish to volunteer here or abroad. Platero encouraged them to inform themselves about the communities they plan to visit before heading abroad. Tiessen also advised students to do their own research, as well as to stay in one place for several months, to better integrate, make the most of their learning and transfer their skills. As for Bamba, he encouraged volunteers to mobilize all their resources when working with students and to always be ready to adapt and try different methods. Lastly, Madiba Moubouyi stressed the importance of focusing on local issues, such as racism, first. She encouraged us to “think local” before looking abroad.
Overall, the discussion was a success. The panellists gave sound advice on the importance and benefits of volunteering in one’s community and globally. Students are now more aware and better equipped to get involved in their own community or in a community abroad.
By: Andrew Heath