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International Learning creates a better future for all

She was overwhelmed with the scattered bursts of fireworks and a welcoming party. More than 100 people crowded the dirt road in Las Arrugas. The students and people of the Guatemalan village stood in two rows, creating an aisle for the college students to walk down as they arrived.

Meagan Secord is now a graduate of Durham College’s (DC’s) Journalism – Mass Media program in Ontario. However, Secord traveled to Guatemala in February 2020, with her class, led by her professor, Danielle Harder, to participate in the Faculty-Led Class Abroad digital story-telling workshop.

The workshop was designed for the DC students to teach students in Guatemala how to create their own videos based on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.)

These are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’ – all while the DC students practiced skills they were learning within the journalism program.

The Academic Plan at DC makes these workshops possible. The Plan, combined with projects, are designed to broaden employee and student involvement in international projects.

This is one of the initiatives towards DC’s goal to strategically grow and develop international partnerships, including the delivery of quality international development projects.

DC encourages positive international and intercultural learning inside and outside the classroom while expanding education abroad opportunities, and supports for students and employees.

DC continues to support, and retain an increasingly diverse group of students.

The Academic Plan recognizes ‘our graduates live and work in a globalized society; we (DC) must provide them with the tools, understanding, and experience required to succeed in this changing world.’

Secord who relied on a translator in Guatemala said, “I didn’t need the English words to move myself to tears.”

Prior to Secord’s experience in Guatemala, she traveled with a research team to Finland, in October 2020 with Lorraine Closs, a professor from the school of Health and Community Services at DC.

Secord was a research assistant for Closs’ project, ‘Co-Design of a Youth-Led Housing Hub’, to create a youth housing model that could work for youth living on their own in Durham. In Finland, Secord said she met people who run the national youth homelessness organization, to learn about their systems.

A team of four DC students, including Secord and DC videography student Ryan Beaton, was one of the Top 25 finalists in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s 2020 Storytellers challenge for their video ‘There Is Hope‘, a video about youth homelessness in the Durham Region and includes information about the housing hub model project for Durham. Secord narrated this video.

Rogier Ten Kate, a professor of international business and project management for the School of Business, IT & Management at DC, as well as the Global Learning Facilitator, said international exchange within DC and other countries “doesn’t stop with just students making documentaries.”

Ten Kate adds, “There’s nothing more valuable than to hear somebody from a different culture speak with someone about their culture.”

“The partnerships that we (DC) have – we take students on experiences, we take faculty on experiences, institutions on experiences, where we connect institutions and say let’s all learn together and see what we can come up with,” said Ten Kate. “That all happens on an international level.”

The Global Classroom, now known as The Rotary Global Classroom, has about 120-125 partners connected with it. This consists of colleges and universities around the world and is a way for students and faculty to have a conversation and to interact with each other – to have meaningful conversations.

There are different levels of international exchanges that can be made, for example, inviting a person into the class as a virtual guest. He adds another level of international exchange is when classes within post-secondary institutions invite groups of students and whole classrooms from other countries to collaborate virtually.

Ten Kate said the Rotary Global Classroom is where international exchanges happened prior to COVID-19, but currently these exchanges are coordinated virtually through online platforms. He’s hopeful traveling abroad will be re-introduced once the pandemic and restrictions are lifted.

Ten Kate said, “We try to help and share knowledge with each other and create learning environments where faculty can learn from us or we can learn from them, and students can also learn from each other.

“We delivered a lot of workshops and classroom-type settings where we try to help them and maybe get them through different types of teaching styles and teaching methods that we apply,” he said.

Secord said her group’s video created by Las Arrugas students through the DC digital storytelling workshops helped highlight the importance for parents in Guatemala to invest in their daughter’s education. This has been a misconception in that community for a long time but it’s fully changing now in part with the international support from non-profit organizations such as ‘Students Offering Support’ (SOS).

Laura Barbosa is a coordinator for the Guate Groundswell Program for SOS. The Guate Groundswell Program is an initiative designed to empower youth to be mentors and leaders within three communities in Guatemala; Las Arrugas, San FelipeChenla, and Ojo de Agua. In part with SOS, Barbosa works with three Program Officers within the three Guatemalan communities.

“We make sure everything is running smoothly between Guatemala and Canada,” she said. “Sometimes we have online workshops with universities in Canada, so we have to make sure they are well-coordinated, and then we also have local workshops with local leaders, so we make sure the content is what we are looking for and it supports our initiative.”

Barbosa said she helps support the 25 mentors in each community, and the mentors are responsible for supporting the learning of up to 4 mentees, aged 10-12. She said, “Each mentor is provided with a tablet, pre-loaded with various software.

Secord’s class’ experience in Guatemala is an example of traveling abroad to carry out these workshops internationally.

GUATEMALA- Meagan Secord and a young girl, Glenda, working together during Secord's stay in Guatemala.
GUATEMALA- Meagan Secord and a young girl, Glenda, working together during Secord's stay in Guatemala.

“We had a project run by the University of Toronto on how to purify the water in Guatemala done by the engineering team,” Barbosa said. “They came up with a system to purify the water and they went to Guatemala to test the system to improve the filtration of water to make sure the community was able to get purified water.”

Barbosa adds it helps students in Canada share their own projects and implement them in places like Guatemala.

SOS is globally recognized for its work with developing countries and providing access to services communities need. In total, 11 countries, 95 communities, and 150,000 + students have been impacted globally through the organization’s work and its volunteers. This consists of 41 projects for libraries, labs, and materials. 102 projects for classroom construction, and education towards nutrition and well-being with 69 projects such as school gardens. 23 projects for playgrounds, fields, and courts for recreation have also been provided through SOS’ work.

In total, 228 projects improving access to equality of education have been done. Impacting an estimated 150,000 students in underserved communities and providing 2.5 k textbooks that have been donated.

Secord’s experience in Guatemala is one of the countless examples of SOS’ work in action involving the partnership of colleges and universities in Canada – allowing for students to offer and exchange support to other students abroad. Helping to make a positive social and economic change within developing and other countries.

Durham College is one of 25 campuses currently involved with SOS. The organization has invested 2.5 million dollars and has involved 10,000 past volunteers, teaching 100,000 students.

The pandemic has put a hold on traveling abroad projects, for now. However, online international virtual learning and workshops abroad continue.

In October-November, Durham College journalism students worked with students in Guatemala virtually, to help them create podcasts about their community.

“Some of the SDG’s covered in the podcasting were poverty, gender equality, and water management,” Barbosa said. “Everyone involved had fun and learned more about self-confidence, commitment, and teamwork while developing technology skills.”

Secord said her experience traveling to Guatemala has opened up so many doors.

“When I walk into a job interview and I get asked about a challenging time where I had to adapt, my mind immediately goes to stories from Las Arrugas.”

Secord said it was an entire pivot that whole week.

“You didn’t know who you were going to speak to, you don’t speak their language, you have no idea where you are, and employers look at that and say ‘wow you did that’,” Secord said.

Barbosa said rather than receiving all the time, it’s important to give and help those who need our help, whether that be nationally or internationally.

“To share everything that we have, everything that we learn and know, to make a better, more sustainable world, creating more equal communities for everyone, not only in Guatemala,” said Barbosa.