Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 21, 2001
Students visit life on the other side
Trip to the inner city highlights 3-day social justice institute
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Matthew Glass is a changed young man. After attending a recent social justice institute at Newman Theological College, the 19-year-old High Prairie student feels ready to change the world.
"I feel more empowered now that I know I have a voice and that I can make a difference in our world if I choose to," Glass said after the May 7-10 event. "And I think that's what we are all called to - to make our world a little bit better."
Glass was among 35 high school students from Catholic schools across Alberta who attended the four-day institute.
It was the second youth institute put on by Newman's Littlemore Program, developed by former religion teacher Jack Kelly. Last's year's event focused on bioethics.
The program, funded through a $150,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation in the U.S., also offers workshops for students to foster their faith and spirituality as well as in-services, talks and resources for religion teachers.
Facilitated by Jennifer Tupper, a doctoral student in education, the institute focused on the social teaching of the Church and how it can be applied to daily life. John Lynch and Linda Winski of the Social Justice Commission and Bob Schmidt of Development and Peace helped plan the institute and to lead sessions.
Students participated in role-plays in which scenarios depicting unjust situations were performed. Each scenario was based upon a particular principle of Catholic social teaching.
"We looked at issues that plague our society, from issues of poverty to human rights, all sorts of things that encompass the dignity of people and the role of people in our society," noted Glass.
"We learn through some basic Catholic social teachings where the Catholic Church stands on it and how to take our beliefs into the real world to try to make this world a better place."
The event also included visits to inner city organizations such as shelters, housing co-ops and social agencies as well as agencies like Change for Children, which assist developing countries.
One group learned about fair and unfair trade by visiting Ten Thousand Little Villages Store, an Old Strathcona store that buys handicrafts from Third World countries at fair prices, and the GAP and the Disney stores, both of which Tupper says exploit their workers.
Students were also given tips on how to organize student groups to deal with social justice issues in their schools and communities.
"The kids' response has been really positive," Tupper said. "I think their awareness has been raised. They've really been thinking critically about the issues of social justice that we have been talking about."
Glass, a Grade 12 student at High Prairie's virtual school, now even worries about how students treat each other. "I get worried because so often we lack basic care for each other," he reflects. "We know each other but we don't. We pass them by, we ask how they are doing and we don't really wait for a response sometimes."
The "bigger picture" is an even greater concern for Glass. "We don't even look where our clothes come from, we don't look at where our food is made or the fact that we may wear $120 shoes but there might be children who are paid 20 cents an hour to make a 1,000 of them a day."
Leah Tassey of Edmonton's Holy Trinity High School came to the institute "to learn more about social justice" and to learn other people's views on the subject.
"I know in schools there is lots of discrimination and racism, drugs and all of that and I just wanted to discuss these things and find a way that we can solve these conflicts."
The institute opened Tassey's eyes and now she is planning to raise awareness about the equality of all God's people.
"There are people in our school who don't dress the right way, don't fit in and are discriminated against by what they look like. I don't think that's fair," said the 17-year-old.
Katherine Lee of Fort Saskatchewan may help set up a bulletin board in her school to "create awareness about what's going on out there." Her visit to the inner city and to the offices of Change for Children, where she learned about the life of the poor in El Salvador and Nicaragua, shocked her.
"I knew about it but it's a whole different thing when you are actually there and you actually see what people have to go through," Lee reflected. "I thought if we could have stayed overnight we could have gotten a better understanding of what they have to go through because we take many things for granted."
Tashia Strumecki of St. Gabriel Cyber School in St. Albert also learned a lot from the institute.
"The institute definitely gave me more confidence on what I can do to change (things)," the 16-year-old said. "If there is something going on which I don't like, it gave me some ideas on what I can do to change it."
A visit to inner city shelters gave her a new perspective on the poor. "It's actually very interesting to visit the inner city because I'd never actually gone there to talk to the people who live there. At first I was kind of nervous for showing up there but people are really nice for the most part."
A visit to the Edmonton Food Bank and Operation Friendship left 16-year-old Theresa Anderson of St. Thomas More School in Fairview depressed.
"It made me feel guilty to see the homeless people around there," she said. "They have so little and we have everything."
She said the institute raised her awareness about social issues and instilled in her a desire to right the wrongs in society. "I'm more open to the issues now."
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