The Pathway To Solidarity
By Celeste Brazeau Houle
Of all the Social Science programs’ profiles offered at Dawson, North-South Studies is the one that seems to never get the full recognition it deserves, regardless of its extraordinary community. This profile might sometimes be overlooked, yet it is made up of some of the most dedicated individuals, all of whom are determined to contribute to social justice. According to Geography teacher Gisela Frias, the North-South Studies profile’s purpose is to “learn about the relationship between the global south and global north, considering an important legacy of colonialism and a present imperialism.”
With this objective in mind, students are given the opportunity to travel to a Latin-American destination in order to learn from a critical perspective, acquire knowledge from, and experience this intercultural immersion. This year, nine second-year students and three teachers in the North-South Studies profile traveled to Cuba, continuing a twenty-year-long tradition that regularly took place in Nicaragua. They spent approximately a month travelling through various locations, living amongst different local Cuban families, which allowed them to acquire a “solid understanding of issues of development, inequality and social justice,” as Frias put it.
As one of three teachers involved in the organization of the grand voyage, Frias was responsible for preparing the class, which made her feel pressured to deliver on students’ hope and expectation to make a difference in the world. In her eyes, teaching a class dedicated to preparing for the trip was worth the challenges. The class helped her define the kind of teacher she wanted to be and the particular values she wanted to implement on her students. Amongst her challenges, one of the most important to her was defining herself as a woman of color from a developed world, highlighting this fundamental since there are not enough people of colour in the educational system.
As part of the trip, students were asked to answer to two components: first, write a personal journal, in which students would reflect on what they saw and felt during the trip; second, fill out a notebook with information they had gathered during interviews and conferences with local Cubans. Both these components compelled them to apply everything they had learned to the Cuban environment. This trip was not only an important personal reflection, but also an important learning experience where knowledge came alive in students’ field work.
Students unanimously admitted that experiencing what it is like to be a in foreign country like Cuba was indescribably more enriching than the extensive history lessons they had learned beforehand. “The history, the politics, the concern for the environment and the Cuban culture came up a lot,” said second year North-South student Elara Neath-Thomin about the trip, adding that she was pleased to have learned about different individuals’ agriculture and health systems.
Students and teachers take pride in mentioning that the trip is ultimately a “solidarity” experience. They made donations and offered their help wherever needed, all while making a point of showing their respect towards every aspect of the country’s culture and treating it with dignity. They found it crucially important to dedicate some of their time to the community they visited in order to learn from them, considering they are such “hardworking, optimistic and persevering” individuals, as second year North-South student Rosie Percoco put it.
Considering the dedication and hard-work put into both the North-South Studies profile and especially this trip to Cuba, it is safe to say that students came back from this experience having different aspects of their lives changed. “Throughout the years, I’ve seen students’ commitment to social justice strengthened, their interests about the world flourished and seen their values change,” said Gisela Frias. This trip is definitely an opportunity for students to learn about the dignity and complexity of people’s lives through their commitment to solidarity.