Learning with the next generation: Human rights and global migration

By Garth Lester

From February 14 to 16, 2019, I had the privilege of joining about thirty other university and college students from across Canada for MCC’s annual student seminar in Ottawa. The focus of this seminar was ‘People on the Move: Human Rights and Global Migration,’ and this was reflected by the diverse body of attendees. A major element of this conference was recognizing that besides Indigenous Canadians, each of us can trace our lineage to immigrant ancestors; students arrived from across our large country, but we each also brought heritages from even further away, including Eastern Europe, South East Asia, West Africa, and the Middle East.

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MCC Ottawa Office student seminar 2019 participants on Parliament Hill (MCC photo by Sara Peppinck)

Even before arriving in Ottawa, I was challenged to reflect on the incredible adversity faced by the millions of global refugees and migrants as they seek out peace for themselves and their families. Due to winter storms, I experienced several flight cancellations, re-bookings, and delays until I arrived at an unpleasantly early time in Ottawa. In the midst of my travelling difficulties, I knew that I had a network of resources to assist me if necessary; for many refugees and migrants, there is no safety net or alternative plan, but instead barriers and often unpredictable challenges.

Another major element of this conference was to develop a deep empathy for refugees and migrants, and to recognize that they are individual people with personal stories, dreams, fears and needs. It is important to listen to stories because that allows us to move beyond viewing people groups as statistics, and instead allows us to see others’ humanity and respond accordingly.

The seminar featured a number of incredible speakers who spoke about their personal involvement with global migration, as well as reflected on the needs that can be addressed by the average individual, like those of us attending. Nadia Williamson, from the UNHCR, explained the role and limitations of multilateral organizations like the United Nations, expressing that the private sector and civil society are needed to fully meet the needs of refugees and migrants. A panel of Canadian civil society actors further explained the importance of non-governmental organizations, especially to influence government. In addition, André Belzile, from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, presented the significant value in multi-state organizations and the state of Canada.

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Civil society panel with left to right: Deborah Mebude and Serisha Iyar from Citizens for Public Justice, Amy Bartlett from Refugee Hub, Doreen Katto from Matthew House (MCC photo by Sara Peppinck)

In collective, the speakers expressed the complex interconnectedness of the United Nations, the Canadian government, civil society, and the private sector—there is not one sector of society that will be able to independently generate positive change. In response to this reality, I see an obligation for me to be involved as an educated voting Canadian citizen, an advocate through civil society, and a compassionate and hospitable neighbour within my increasingly diverse neighbourhood.

As a democratic nation, Canadian citizens have the right and opportunity to have their voices heard and advocate for others. During this seminar, we heard several stories that stimulate hope, in which MCC and others successfully convinced the Canadian government and UN representatives to improve policies in response to the global refugee/forced migration crisis. When individuals come together, through petitions, letters to MPs, and meetings, we are able to actively influence our government.

A statement that stands out from the seminar is that as advocates, “we are not a voice for the voiceless, but we are lending our privilege as a megaphone” (Samantha Baker Evens). My Canadian citizenship and English heritage give me power and privilege, which I can use to empower others.

The role of being an advocate is dynamic as it involves listening to the individuals who are most affected by the crisis, educating myself on the issue, actively and tangibly caring for my newcomer neighbour, and pressuring those in power to change. This sounds like a tall order, and certainly not a task that can be handled alone. This seminar shed light on the importance of recognizing change, the obligation to respond, as well as showed me how groups and organizations, like MCC, can use their power to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants around the world.

– Garth Lester is a student at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC.

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Abel Machaca: To be in the truth

This blog was originally published by MCC Latin America and the Caribbean (MCC LACA) on November 28, 2018.  

By Riley Mulhern

Photo by Anna Vogt

“They’re afraid of us now,” he told me, although looking at Abel Machaca’s kind, lined face doesn’t impose fear; his eyes and smile are more of an open invitation to friendship. His story though, one of tenacity in the face of ongoing struggle, belies his soft-spoken nature. He is a Bolivian David staring down Goliath, a threat to power from the most unlikely of places.

Abel is a herdsman. He and his brother care for about 200 sheep and 60 head of cattle on the family land, the same where they were born and raised. Their land lies at the heart of one of Bolivia’s most environmentally contentious and vulnerable areas where the interests of mining and politics, combined with climate change and drought all unhappily converge. Known as Yuracari, his community is nestled among a string of low hills near the small mining town of Poopó, almost equidistant between the Uru Uru and Poopó lakes, both recognized for their international ecological importance. Abel has watched from this front row seat his entire life as a drama of environmental deterioration and political apathy has unfolded before him.

Photo by Anna Vogt

He remembers the time during his childhood when the river ran freely and his family’s wells were sweet. When they didn’t have to worry about pasture for their livestock and the rains were more than enough. Today, the Desaguadero River that carries water down from the famous Lake Titicaca falters and fades into the earth before it ever reaches Lake Poopó. Lake Poopó has all but disappeared, converted to a thousand square kilometer expanse of blinding, white salt. His land too, which used to be a healthy, rich russet color, now shows signs of sickness: ugly stains of white, lead, and yellow from the salt and sulfur carried down from the mines. The wells they used to drink from have turned “spicy” and “undrinkable” and they have to rent out other pastures for their livestock part of the year.

Abel says he began to notice these changes as a boy, and they worried him. He studied hard and put himself through high school in the city of Oruro, about two hours away from his small community of Yuracari. Abel always had, in his words, “a dream of being able to help my entire region.” This vision even propelled him to pursue agronomy in the Universidad Mayor San Simon in Cochabamba, another six hours away from his home.

But despite this distance, his connection to his land and family never wavered. For years, he made the journey back to Poopó every ten or fifteen days to help his parents in the campo. His vision for “an improvement in the quality of life” of his community was never assimilated into an ambition for his own success or career; it was never a means of escape from his life as a farmer and herdsman. Indeed, when his father got sick and passed away, he left his studies and returned full-time to his community to help his mother. He never finished his degree. Instead, his decisions embody the Andean values of commitment to place, reciprocity in community, and responsibility to family.

Although the youngest of his siblings, Abel began to assume more and more responsibilities for the care of his family’s land and his community. As evidence of environmental contamination advanced year after year, specifically with regard to community concerns regarding the presence of toxic heavy metals in their water and soil, he began to take formal steps to advocate for his community among the local political authorities and mining operations themselves. But the obstacles were great.

“We always protested to the mining companies,” he tells me, “but they never paid attention to us. They always took us as if we don’t know anything … With the naked eye, physically, it’s obvious that there’s contamination, but they always said, ‘Show me. What contamination?’ They were the ‘experts’ who could always turn us in circles.”

Abel needed a way to make them pay attention. He needed a way to “actually show that we are actually right.” But how to overcome the evasive tactics of the powerful to ignore the claims of the community—this is the question the Israelites asked about Goliath in despair. Abel is a man far from despair, however, and not having a university degree did not stop him from the “search to be able to show them that we were really contaminated with certain metals.” He became one of the local leaders of his community, organizing and participating in political marches and campaigns for the protection of the environment and more responsible mining practices. At one march in particular, in 2013, Abel met someone who could help. Representatives from the Cochabamba organization Center for Communication and Andean Development (CENDA) were also there and interviewed Abel about his community and concerns.

As an authority in the community, Abel invited CENDA to Yuracari and asked for help in providing trainings and workshops to understand the environmental and mining laws to support their local advocacy. Eventually he developed an agreement with CENDA to continue working together. This was a concrete step—but it wasn’t enough. “What more could we do?” Abel asked himself. The question remained, “How can we demonstrate which metals or what chemical elements we are contaminated by?”

The idea emerged to develop a community-led environmental monitoring program of local waters so the community could collect the information they needed themselves. This was Abel’s slingshot. Experts in community water quality monitoring agreed to come from Peru to train Abel and other volunteers from Yuracari in using basic equipment to test water quality and interpret the results. CENDA provided Abel with a water quality testing kit of his own and he and others from his community began testing their community’s water every month.

Photo by Anna Vogt

“It’s been difficult,” Abel remembers. “The municipality makes it difficult for us to be monitors.” Instead of support, Abel and the others were at first met with resistance and confusion. When they went to the municipality saying they were going to monitor water quality, they were challenged: “Who authorized you?” they were asked.

“The technicians themselves thought they knew everything, that they were always right, not us,” Abel says. But despite the asymmetries of power, Abel pushed forward. “Over time we’ve kept practicing a lot, with workshops and trainings we’ve been getting stronger.”

Now, nine community members, five adults and four youth, are trained and actively participate in monitoring a network of locations throughout the watershed, above and below local mining operations. He was pleased when high school students from the nearby town of Totoral from the municipality of Antequera also joined the effort. Abel and the others compile results and report them to their municipalities, slowly earning recognition and respect. Abel was invited to present regarding his experience at a recent health conference in Oruro and is increasingly seen as a resource for other communities as someone who can answer questions about water quality.

Abel also works closely with MCC Bolivia’s partner, the Center for Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA), located in Oruro. CEPA supports Abel and other local leaders in their defense of the environment through political advocacy, technical community trainings, mining inspections, and coordinating grassroots efforts among impacted communities. Long-term, with the support of organizations like CENDA, CEPA, and MCC, Abel believes he can effect real change.

“The mining companies have they’re ways around all the demands we made. But not anymore … Now they listen to us,” he says. “In meetings that we have with the different government offices, we can easily explain our monitoring work and can say that these waters have poor quality … We’ve done it and we were right.”

When I asked how old he is, he smiled and shook his head. “Oh, plenty of years, but that doesn’t matter.” Despite his age, he is full of energy and wants to see grassroots monitoring groups grow and expand throughout the region. All that matters, he says, is that he is able to continue supporting communities to attain their right to information about their water and the environment. This is his new vision.

“Being a water quality monitor is satisfying,” he says. “So much can be achieved with information.”

Photo by Anna Vogt

– Riley Mulhern, from Louisville, Colorado and the First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colorado, served in Oruro, Bolivia with the Center of Ecology and Andean Peoples (CEPA) as part of the Seed II program with MCC Bolivia.


Together with coalition partners KAIROS and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, MCC is urging ongoing advocacy to ensure Canadian companies operating overseas are held accountable for allegations of harm.

Please join us in expressing your support for an effective and fully independent Ombudsperson with strong investigative powers. Send a message to the Minister of International Trade.

For more information, visit Open for Justice.

Women making a difference

By Monica Scheifele

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women. In thinking about the many accomplished women who have advocated for change and those who laid the foundations for women’s involvement in advocacy, I remembered hearing about an organization whose roots go back almost 60 years to the time of the Cold War. Perhaps it was their presence in Hanoi during the recent DPRK-USA summit that brought them to mind, but whatever the reason, this Women’s Day seemed the right time to highlight the organization known as Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW).

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace photo

VOW has an interesting history as described in the documentary “Voice of Women: The first thirty years,” a film produced and directed by Margo Pineau and Cathy Reeves. The organization started in 1960 when nuclear war was a real possibility. As one early member, Anne Postans shared in the documentary, “I was appalled that we were playing at nuclear war instead of trying to find ways to solve our differences.” Women recognized how close the world was coming to nuclear war, so in May 1960 when Toronto Star columnist Lotta Dempsey challenged women to come together and do something, hundreds rallied, and by June an anti-nuclear organization called Voice of Women was born. By the end of its first year, it had over 6,000 members from across Canada.

Many of these first members had never advocated before as this took place in a time when women weren’t seen to have a place in the affairs of state. However, these women were not to be deterred. They produced newsletters, organized local meetings, public demonstrations, held forums, wrote letters to MPs, cabinet ministers, and local papers, as well as networked with women around the world.

In 1962 when Canada began to build bunkers to house nuclear weapons, VOW chartered a train and brought women from across Canada to Ottawa to confront politicians, particularly Prime Minister Diefenbaker, on the decision to accept 56 missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads from the US. VOW called on the government to declare Canada a non-nuclear state and to encourage the US to stop testing nuclear weapons. According to the film by Pineau and Reeves, politicians were non-committal but polite while the press was outraged referring to the delegation as “wailing women.”

In 1963 VOW sent a delegation to Moscow believing that women everywhere shared a desire for peace. On the way, they stopped in various European capital cities to meet with women and peace groups. In Russia, they attended an international congress with 7,000 women from 35 countries discussing strategies for international peace.

At home, the trip to Russia sparked allegations of communist infiltrations and take over. VOW members were accused of being ‘dupes’, ‘dirty Reds’ and ‘simple women who don’t really understand what they’re saying’. They were labelled traitors for talking peace and, as a result, lost many members.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the US and Russia tested over 200 nuclear weapons raising concerns about global contamination of the food chain. VOW initiated research into the effects of nuclear radiation from atmospheric testing of atomic bombs. They launched a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of fallout by having the baby teeth of thousands of children sent for testing of radioactive elements. This helped lead to the partial test ban treaty which stopped nuclear atmospheric testing, but not underground testing.

During the Vietnam war, VOW members visited North Vietnam in a show of solidarity with Vietnamese women and organized a campaign to knit blankets and baby clothing for Vietnamese children affected by attacks and bombings. Over 30,000 garments and blankets were shipped.

In 1969 VOW brought a group of North and South Vietnamese women to Canada for a storytelling tour. Since the delegation could not enter the US, several hundred American women came across the border to meet the Vietnamese women.

At the end of the Vietnam war, many women left VOW feeling their work was done while others remained, recognizing the need for further efforts to achieve peace and equality. Those who stayed helped found the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and the Canadian Peace Alliance. In 1978, VOW became one of the first Canadian peace organizations to be accredited at the UN.

As time went on VOW started looking at the root causes of war such as the way society condones and encourages aggression. As part of a campaign against war toys and TV shows with violence they met with toy manufacturers and attended trade fairs to educate others about the dangers of making war and killing a game. During the Gulf War, VOW organized demonstrations and went to Baghdad to speak to Iraqi women.

vow logoFor VOW the goal for a safe, just, and peaceful world has never changed but over the years the agenda has expanded to include inter-related issues such as ending violence, halting arms production, strengthening the UN and Indigenous reconciliation. As Stella Le John said in the documentary, “Change is possible, but only if people want it. We have the power but have to recognize that we have it.”

For more information on what Canadian Voice of Women for Peace is doing today, check out their website.

– Monica Scheifele is the MCC Ottawa Office Program Assistant


Engage with Nonviolent activism with Dr. Emily Welty this spring at the Canadian School of Peacebuilding in Winnipeg! Dr. Welty is Vice Moderator of the World Council of Churches Commission on International Affairs and is the chair of the Nuclear Disarmament Working Group. She is a core member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), recipients of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. From June 17-21 she will teach a course entitled Generous Dissent: Nonviolent Activism and Resistance. Follow the link to find out more!

 

Confronting the fear of our history

By Charity Nonkes

“Yet we Christians have also been called to take a good hard look at ourselves. To reflect on our Christian beliefs, to scrutinize our missional practices. And to decolonize. It’s not that Christianity is inherently colonial, but for generations the Church and its faith have been used – wittingly, unwittingly, and far too often – as instruments of dispossession in the settler colonial arsenal. Indigenous peoples are asking the Church to our own work, to beat our colonial swords into peaceable ploughshares.” – pg. xvi Unsettling the word

This is a quote taken from Unsettling the Word: Biblical experiments in decolonization. The book is a collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors re-examining Biblical stories in order to reclaim the Bible as a tool for peacemaking from an instrument of dispossession. It was created by the Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program.

In the process of truth and reconciliation there is a great need for us all to critically analyze the forces that favoured Christian Europeans and their descendants over others. This work brings up hard questions concerning our identity and our justification for being on the land. When I look to my upbringing, Christianity was not perceived as an instrument of dispossession. Christianity brought community and belonging, but I was coming from a place of privilege and European ancestry.

In the early settlement of Canada, the government claimed it had the authority over the land to sell or grant it to settlers. The Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius are concepts that the European powers used to justify the claim that land was theirs. These concepts provided a framework that said that North America was open to be ‘discovered’ because the indigenous population wasn’t Christian and therefore did not rightly own the land. Theology was used to create a narrative that the land was empty and therefore open for foreign powers to come and claim possession, leading to genocide and exploitation.

For the healing of others and ourselves, it is absolutely paramount for us all to understand the entire story of how Canada was established and the role of Christianity in it. In my experience destruction caused by Christianity is often ignored or hidden because of fear. This fear may be rooted in what these truths mean for who we are as a people – for our identity. This becomes especially difficult when our own histories are mingled with stories of fleeing persecution, hunger, and violence to find freedom in Canada. How do we reconcile it within ourselves that we have freedom in Canada but at the expense of Indigenous peoples? How can we do reconciliation work if we don’t address the truth of our history?

KAIROS banket exercise photo (002)

MCC Photo/Leona Lortie. University of Saskatchewan students participating in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise in 2015.

A part of this journey is to thoroughly examine the residential school system and the role of Mennonites. Mennonite Residential Schools in Northwestern Ontario were part of the larger residential school system that sought to eliminate Indigenous ways of life and ensure assimilation to Christian European practices. I have often heard the point that the Mennonites running these schools had good intentions but were misguided.

Good intentions are often clouded by privilege and ignorance of how oppression is engrained into society for the benefit of some over others. Anthony Siegrist, pastor at Ottawa Mennonite Church, has researched and written about Mennonite involvement in the residential school system.

Siegrist writes, “They (Mennonites) seemed sincere in their attempts to “improve” the lives of their Indigenous students. Many staff sacrificed comfort and pay to serve as they did. And yet they were complicit. Probably naïve, but still complicit. If you know anything about Mennonite Christians, you may know that historically ours is a minority tradition, a tradition rooted in martyrdom. We do not always realize the power of our own cultural connections or the power of skin color.”

The call for decolonization and a critical analysis of the role of Christianity in colonial history is a door that is often bolted shut because we fear what it will reveal about ourselves. However, this self-reflection is a healing process for us and everyone living on this land. Christianity has been used for destruction. Faith can also invite us towards reconciliation, as we learn new ways of reading the Bible.

The Church played an instrumental role in colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples – no matter what the intentions were– we all must work to decolonize. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action challenges us to do this. Action 49 – We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

It is time for us to recognize the colonial swords that we all carry and beat them into peaceable ploughshares to till fields of truth and reconciliation.

Creator of this beautiful land,
What is truth and reconciliation
When truth is clouded by ideology and religion
Where there is seldom peace to reconcile back to

God of my ancestors,
You nurtured them when they fled persecution, hunger, and violence
They found peace and wealth in this land while others were removed from it
How do we reconcile with this?

God of truth,
What is truth when the Bible was used to justify the murder of Indigenous peoples
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wherever placed”1
“Kill the Indian and save the man”2 – “take the Indian out of the child”3

God of reconciliation
Where do we go from here?
When divisions are like chasms
When hate and fear fuels public debates

God of the oppressed,
How can we be rooted to land that was stolen
How do we reach across the divides that were built to make exploitation easier
How do we decolonize ourselves, communities, and nations?

The TRC also calls us to adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a framework for reconciliation (Action 48). Please join us in urging the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to reconciliation and adopting UNDRIP by supporting the passage of Bill C-262 through the Senate. Send a message to all senators here.

If you would like to find out more about Bill C-262 watch this new short video produced by MCC and our collaboration partners.


1 Papal Bull Dum Diveras (Doctrine of Discovery) – https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas/.
For more information about Doctrine of Discovery –  https://vimeo.com/118735770

2 Colonel Richard Henry Pratt on the education of Native Americans in the United States – http://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/all/files/docs-resources/CIS-Resources_PrattSpeechExcerptShort.pdf

3 Sir John A. MacDonald – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/chief-justice-says-canada-attempted-cultural-genocide-on-aboriginals/article24688854/

To find out more about the KAIROS Blanket Exercise visit: https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/

Charity Nonkes is the MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern

 

Towards Living Wages and Decent Work

by Greg deGroot-Maggetti

“We need to create a parade that politicians want to get in front of.”

That is how one participant at a forum on the living wage and public sector employers put it.

At the heart of decent work is fair pay – the ability to earn a living wage. Not a poverty wage. But enough to meet your needs and fully participate in the life of your community.

But the growth of low-wage and precarious employment has become one of the defining labour market challenges in our time and one of the root causes of growing income inequality.

In 2017, the Government of Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review found that 30% to 32% of workers in Ontario were in low wage jobs with few if any benefits. Many people in standard jobs, “work for very low pay and do not have a private pension.” (An Agenda for Workplace Rights, p. 45)

How does one change that reality?

One approach is to advocate for change in government policy. Groups like the Workers’ Action Centre and the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign have been doing just that in Ontario. And in 2017, their efforts began to bear fruit. Indeed, the very fact that the Changing Workplaces Review took place is a testament to the effectiveness of that advocacy. And although the review was not tasked with reviewing the minimum wage — which happened a few years earlier — when the Government led by Kathleen Wynne announced policy changes based on the Changing Workplaces Review they included a plan to raise the Ontario minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 2019 alongside a number of improvements to employment standards.

Policy change can be characterized as an exercise in taking two steps forward and one step back. That is just what happened in Ontario. In June 2018 a new government was elected. One of the first things the new premier, Doug Ford, did was to freeze the minimum wage at $14 an hour and roll back many of the employment standards changes that the Wynne government had brought in.

Advocates have also taken another approach to create change alongside the direct engagement with government. This approach has been directed at employers, encouraging them to voluntarily pay a living wage to all of their employees – full-time, part-time and contracted services, like custodial, security or food services. The living wage differs from the minimum wage in a couple ways. First, the minimum wage is government mandated and applies to most employees across the province. The living wage is a policy voluntarily adopted by employers. Second, the minimum wage tends to be arbitrarily set, usually bearing no relation to the actual cost of living. The living wage is independently calculated based on the actual cost of living in communities. In Ontario, living wage rates calculated for close to two dozen communities are all above the $15 an hour target for the minimum wage. The living wage rates in these communities vary from $21.75 in Toronto, Canada’s largest city to $16.05 in Thunder Bay.

The Ontario Living Wage Network came together in 2014. Nearly 200 employers have enrolled in the Living Wage Employer Program. Hundreds of employees have seen a pay raise as a result.

But the impact is greater than the number of employees directly affected.

In 2017, the Government of Ontario held hearings about upgrading employment standards. Typically in such situations, workers’ organizations and anti-poverty advocates speak in favour of raising the minimum wage, providing fair scheduling, paid sick days, etc. In the other corner are business groups – chambers of commerce, industry associations and the like – who caution about the presumed negative economic effect of making such changes. Into that mix, a group of living wage employers helped launch a new initiative – the Better Way Alliance. Members of the Better Way Alliance talked from their own experience about why paying a living wage and implementing positive employment practices makes good business sense.

The government of the day listened. They brought in many of those changes. But political times change. And the new government began to unwind many of those changes.

Living wage employers are helping create a new understanding and a new culture around employment practices. They note that the living wage is a practical tool helping employers who want to know they are paying their employees enough to make ends meet and participate in community.

Being able to attract qualified employees, seeing better staff retention, saving money on hiring and training as a result, reaping the benefits of higher productivity and better service from a stable workforce, seeing better morale among employees, are just examples of the many benefits of paying a living wage. Living wage employers are speaking up about them.

A few organizations have become leaders in a movement to counter poverty and encourage wage equity. The Ontario Living Wage Network is one among a number of movements promoting decent work. The Ontario Non-Profit Network has made decent work a focus. They have created a Decent Work Checklist  and a pension program for Non-Profit Organizations. The United Way of Greater Toronto has provided a toolkit for businesses to transform precarious jobs into stable employment. The B Corporation movement is demonstrating how sustainable environmental, social and employment practices can be integral to long-term business success.

Each of these initiatives helps demonstrate how old assumptions about trade offs between decent wages or sustainable environmental practices and profitability are false. As these initiatives expand, they create the political space for public policies grounded in proven employment, social and environmental practices of employers of all sorts. They form the “parade that politicians can get in front of.”

 

Greg deGroot-Maggetti serves as MCC Ontario’s Walking with People in Poverty Program Coordinator and is co-chair of the Ontario Living Wage Network. MCC Ontario is a certified Living Wage Employer.

 

Caption for the photo:
Living Wage Employers in Waterloo Region received Living Wage Certificates during living wage week celebrations the first week in November.

Credit: Ontario Living Wage Network

Refugee Resettlement: Where do we go from here?

by Brian Dyck

Brian Dyck

Brian Dyck, National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for MCC Canada

None of us who work in refugee resettlement in Canada will forget 2015. The year started with an increase in the level of interest in refugee resettlement from the general public in Canada. In this changing environment, I took on national leadership for MCC’s refugee resettlement program. In an attempt to direct MCC resettlement efforts, a working group had been struck in late 2014 with communications and refugee resettlement staff to stimulate refugee resettlement of Syrians and Iraqis. There was a hope that we would resettle 2,020 Syrians and Iraqis by 2020—MCC’s centennial year.  Looking back now at a report recommending this, I noted in the margins, “…the number is too high… We will need to ‘change the channel’ to get somewhere on this.” By change the channel, I meant we would need to really work hard to get people’s attention.

Then in September 2015 just as we were about to launch our public awareness campaign with a scaled back goal of a few hundred refugees resettled, the image of Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a beach in Turkey hit the internet and resonated with people in Canada and around the world. Many wanted to do something, and the refugee resettlement program moved beyond our control.

Our plans, which focused on raising public awareness of resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seemed superfluous; public awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees and the possibility of sponsorship was well known. Our task shifted to responding to inquiries and engagement at a level we had not seen since 1979 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

MCC refugee sponsorshipThe scale of the shift can be told partly in numbers. If we use 2014 as a benchmark, 2016 saw an increase of 1,190% of the number of people sponsored through MCC in Canada. This was a seismic shift for MCC in Canada.

There wasn’t just an increase in numbers in 2015. Before the surge, we worked mostly with long-term partners and family members of the people sponsored. In 2014 we were working with around 20 Constituent Groups (CGs). By the end of 2016, we had more than 450 groups who were listed as active in our database, many being relatively new to sponsorship.

The level of activity has subsided somewhat since 2016. In 2018, MCC along with our wonderful constituent groups welcomed a bit more than 600 refugees to Canada—well below the 2016 peak of 1,824, but also well above most years in the previous few decades.

Sponsored refugee landing in Canada

estimate **government target

The government of Canada has made an increased commitment to refugee resettlement as well, through the various sponsorship models. In the 20 years between 1995 and 2014, about 3,725 privately sponsored refugees were settled per year. Since 2015 to the present, an average of about 17,600 privately sponsored refugees were settled per year. In other words, since 2015 there have been as many refugees privately sponsored as have been settled the previous 20 years.

What has that meant for MCC?

The last few years have brought both challenges and opportunities for MCC.

The huge increase in interest in refugee sponsorship among our constituents has allowed us to provide many more refugees with a durable solution in Canada. In addition, it has raised awareness of not just the human cost of war and violence for refugees in the Middle East, but other refugees that are in protracted displacement from places like Eretria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.  Ultimately this has led to a better understanding and support for the role that we as private citizens and Christians in particular can play in “Welcoming the Stranger.” This rise in awareness of refugee situations is perhaps the lasting legacy of this surge in refugee sponsorship in Canada. This direct connection with refugees by many people in Canada can help us see another side of the issue when people start talking about turning back refugees. It is hard to do that when former refugees have become our friends.

Other states have either started a refugee sponsorship program or are seriously consider it. Often, they look to Canada as a model for sponsorship and refugee resettlement and MCC staff have been consultants to states and NGOs in South America and Europe.

While it has been exciting and energizing to help people get involved in this very meaningful work, it has also been challenging to meet the demand. On the plus side, it has spurred us to become more efficient and develop better practices for tracking and supporting sponsoring groups. However, this has stretched MCC resources of time, money and talent. We have a very talented and dedicated team working at MCC on refugee resettlement but finding the financial support for this team is challenging.

Looking ahead, we are beginning to ask ourselves where we go next. One of the things we have talked about is to make sure that the people who come to us who are interested in refugee resettlement are also thinking about the other responses to displacement. While the number of refugees we have helped in Canada has gone up significantly, it is still less than one percent of the refugees in the world. Because it is such a small solution to the problem of forced displacement, we need to consider how the less than one percent who are resettled have the most impact.  That means following the advice of agencies like the UNHCR who support refugees in their host countries as much as we can when we choose who to help resettle in Canada. That is a constant challenge. The pressure to resettle family members of those already in Canada is understandably relentless, even though there may be refugees who are in more dire situations.

It also means looking at ways we can address the root causes of displacement. We need to ask: why did these people have to leave their homes in the first place? It has been said that what we do to help refugees is something like pain-relief therapy for a sick person. If a person is in pain it is important to make sure that the pain is addressed in an effective way. However, we should not assume that pain relief is the cure. The cure for the global refugee crisis is peacebuilding. MCC works at that in a number of places around the world where there is conflict. Making sure that we are involved in dealing with the reasons people have for fleeing their homes is part of the cure. This is an important complimentary step for the crucial and very meaningful work of welcoming refugees into our communities.

Brian Dyck is National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for MCC Canada.

Peacebuilding for Gender Equality: Supporting a Girl’s Right to Education

by Candacia Greeman

At the tender age of 17, Susan* stands tall – strong and resilient against threats of forced marriage. During a recent term break, she was informed that she was to be married upon her arrival home. In her absence, her uncles had accepted 90 heads of cattle, as her bride price. With her dream of becoming a doctor and her drive to pursue her secondary education, Susan* resisted for one week. During this time, she was beaten repeatedly.

An MCC partner, the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek in South Sudan, supports girls like Susan* through a school feeding project and a peace-building project. The Loreto Peace Club consists of 24 Loreto students who are supervised by two teachers. Every year, the Peace Club undertakes several outreach activities to provide trauma healing and peace-building resources for the girls at Loreto, and the community at large.

During the academic year, a trained counselor, who is a former Loreto teacher and well acquainted with challenges facing the girls, visits the school for one month to provide individual and group counseling sessions as needed. The counselor has noted that many students show significant signs of despair due to threats of forced marriage.

In the local culture, the bride price for a bride is paid by the brothers of her betrothed. When the couple’s first daughter is born, her life is held ransom as her future bride price will be used to repay the investment made by her uncles.

The tension between a girl’s desire for education, to choose when and who she should marry, and her uncles’ desire to recoup their investment, is the source of a lot of conflict for girls at Loreto and their families. In some cases, the conflict can become generational. The Peace Club provides girls with tools in conflict resolution to help them handle this conflict in a healthy manner.

“Being in the Peace Club has helped me a lot to deal with my own peace problems. When I lost my mother, a conflict broke out between by father’s family and that of my mother, that my father had not paid her bride price. It became a big problem until my father stopped talking to my grandfather. This disturbed me. One time I shared it during our peace club activities. From these [activities], I got new ideas on how to solve the problem and I have been talking to dad and my grandfather about it. Now the problem is being solved.”

-Elizabeth*

            For many girls, it is very important to have a safe space to talk about these issues and to discuss their feelings. The Loreto Peace Club facilitates this by offering Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) sessions for students. HROC is an approach initially developed in Rwanda to help communities to heal from trauma. In a recent HROC session at Loreto, Susan* and other girls facing threats of forced marriage were able to learn skills to heal from their trauma, and to build their resilience.

During HROC training sessions, I have learnt about things that other people see in me and things that I don’t see. I have also learnt about types of traumas and their cause. [I have learnt] how to heal [from] trauma and [to] live happily again. I have learnt that good listening can help overcome situation before it becomes worse. Above all I have also leant how to overcome loss, grief and mourning that is common in our society since people are blinded by hatred and revenge. Sharing our problem with few trusted ones is also another thing that I learnt. It is important to share things that troubled us because not everyone gets to know what we are going through unless we are willing to share it with them. This training has helped me a lot and I intend to teach others who haven’t had the chance to learn.

– Anna*

After graduating, more than half of Loreto’s students enroll in post-secondary education (52%), or work for NGOs and local ministries (31%). In recent years, graduates have enrolled in an internship program at Loreto where they receive two years of work experience as trainee teachers and nurses, and as assistants in the finance, administrative, logistics and development offices. Upon completion of the internships, they receive scholarships for training as nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers. Internship placements are especially reserved for girls facing threats of forced marriage since they live on the Loreto compound and are protected from these threats during their internships.

While they face many challenges, girls at Loreto receive comprehensive support throughout and after their secondary education. This allows them to develop into young women empowered to promote peace and positive change in their society.

 

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the girls interviewed.

Candacia Greeman is a MCC service worker serving as an education specialist at the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan.


This week is International Development Week and Canadians are celebrating the difference Canadian aid has made around the world. This year’s theme is Together for Gender Equality.

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