The 2018 KLH Scholarship has been awarded to Abeni Steegstra. Below is her submission essay published with permission:
Human rights seized my attention from the time I realized that being a Canadian affords privileges that many people in other parts of the world do not enjoy. As a result, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Global Development Studies. This multidisciplinary program addressed displaced persons, refugees, conflict resolution and peace building through the lenses of political science, sociology, economics, social work, and human geography. These four years made me aware of the inextricable linkages between Canada and the Global South, especially with forced displacement increasing severely worldwide.
As President of the Global Development Club in 2015 and 2016, a dedicated team of members and I spread awareness about the multiple root causes of forced migration. We spent countless hours organizing advocacy campaigns, fundraisers, and debates on factors that destabilize regions, such as conflict and economic disparity. I also had the opportunity to share our research into international development by delivering guest lectures to classes and panel discussions at conferences. This local experience has proven invaluable to develop my skills as a researcher and advocate, and was enhanced further through international volunteer work.
I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for one semester while volunteering in an intensive internship with a non-profit organization. Oaxaca is a fascinating place to study migration, especially by economic displacement, because of its interlinked economic history with Canada and the United States. Many Oaxacan workers migrate to the US and Canada and the depopulation devastates local communities, as they lose able-bodied people who no longer contribute to governance, community projects and culture. The economic instability has resulted in years of protests, which at times results in violent repression.
My internship focused on delivering education to indigenous youth that built capacity for local leadership and pride in the students’ indigenous heritage. While witnessing unrest in the area, I learned more from our students and local protestors than I could have anticipated. They taught me the humility to listen to those who have been historically marginalized. My passion and interest for the region has grown, and I would like ot build on my work there in the future.
In my own community, I currently have the unique opportunity of participating in refugee resettlement, joining a Resettlement Committee in December 2017 to sponsor a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Congo shares economic instability with Oaxaca as one underlying reason for mass displacement, however in the Congo it is caused and reinforced by years of civil wars and ethnic clashes. In 2003, at the peak point in conflict, there were three million internally displaced people (UNOCHA, 2003) and 400,000 refugees from the Congo in surrounding countries (UNHCR,2003). It is from this context that we are sponsoring a family to live in Canada. As a committee we are responsible for every aspect of welcoming and integrating them into Canadian society. My duties are to connect the family to medical care, employment, language classes, and other community services. Through our growing relationship I am learning more every day about what it means to be forced from one’s home, country, and continent.
A mentor in Mexico told me that the more we learn, the more we discover how little we actually know. In each of these practical experiences I have only begun to touch on deeply complex topics in human rights. When I graduated with a BA in Global Development Studies, I was honoured to receive the Dean’s Medal of Excellence for academic achievement and promise in my field. However, I realized I would need to pursue further education in order to produce real, systemic change in situations where human rights are being violated. Legal studies drew me because a country’s laws and policies greatly impact the lives of its citizens, and can be crucial in preventing displacement situations before they being. A legal education provides the evident opportunity to become a lawyer, but it also opens a variety of additional prospects. Knowledge in international law can lead to a position in advocacy, to bring awareness of rights abuses to the public, or to a position in policy analysis, to examine how policies impact people’s well-being. With this in mind, I decided to continue my education with a Juris Doctor program, specializing in international human rights law, commencing in September 2018.
Thank you for considering my experiences and education for which I am deeply grateful.