Students Making a Difference

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Photo caption: from left, Len Cottle, Kailyn Morrar, and Riley Tessier

(SAULT STE. MARIE, ON – April 25, 2018): Five Algoma University students jetted off to Colombia last week in an effort to make change and help implement peace in post-conflict societies.

Three Community, Economic, and Social Development (CESD) students, one Sociology student, and one Political Science student make up the Algoma group.

The cohort is guided by Dr. Sheila Gruner, Chair of the CESD program, who has been instrumental supporting organizations working for the defense of political, cultural, and territorial rights of Indigenous and Black communities in relation to the Colombia peace accord process.

Gruner was nominated as an international representative for Clarification of the Truth and has been accompanying the Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defence of the Territorial Rights since 2016.

“We’re very excited about the trip,” said Gruner. “This is a great opportunity for our students to take what they’ve learned this past semester in class, or in their work placement, and explore concepts alongside community organizations in an applied context. This will be an important experiential and cross-cultural learning experience – and the first international trip for some of the students. They’re going to be seeing firsthand what communities and organizations are doing in the region to protect people’s rights and freedoms and be exposed to some challenges in the construction of a sustainable peace in the country.”

A pre-departure, for-credit course provided students with background on the peace process and ongoing issues in Colombia, in particular, the implications for Indigenous and afro-descendent communities, as well as women and other under-represented groups. Students will also be drawing upon other coursework and theories from their respective programs.

The group will be in Colombia for 35 days, with two students staying in Bogotá and the other three in Armenia, Quindio. Some of the students will be working closely with the Black Communities Process (PCN) and all will be hosted by partner universities with whom Algoma has established institutional agreements.

“I think this is going to be a really good experience for all of us,” said fourth year CESD student, Riley Tessier. “Everyone has a really good understanding of the concepts and the reasons why we’re going. Everyone brings their unique perspectives, which makes for a strong group. Throughout the year, we’ve talked about the reasons for conflict in relation to dominant development, which is going to be really interesting to explore that on the ground.”

This is the second time that a student group from Algoma has ventured to Colombia as part of a community development learning experience. In previous years, CESD student groups traveled to Ecuador and Ireland.