In 2019, the KLH Scholarship awarded a “runner-up” scholarship to Stephanie Schreuders. Below is her submission essay published with permission:
My journey and experience in international development and human rights started in 2014 in Kitchener, Ontario, when I began working at a place called Welcome Home Refugee House. I was a young social work graduate, eager to serve and learn. I had a desire to learn more about our world having recently returned from five months of teaching in Ghana. I didn’t know much about refugees, but suddenly found myself living in a house with those who had been forcibly displaced and who were starting to rebuild their lives in Canada. Welcome Home is a house where newly arrived refugees can live for up to one year. I started as a live-in staff intern, whose job it was to facilitate programming and coordinate case management for the fifteen residents of the home. Welcome Home is a place where “the other” becomes your friend, your sister, your brother and your neighbour. For some newcomers it was the first time they had met someone from another religion or nationality. Welcome Home is a community where stereotypes and prejudices are broken down and you are able to see fellow human beings across religious and ethnic divides. it was a joy for me to be invited into this community, into the lives of those who were now beginning the difficult journey of starting their lives over in Canada.
The community of people at Welcome Home have profoundly shaped me as an individual as well as the direction of my life. The stories of war, displacement and violence that we see in the news became real as my new friends shared their lives with me. I became much more aware of human rights issues on an international scale as I heard personal stories of injustice. I learned about the importance of belonging and the desire we all hold to have a place to call home. I learned about hospitality as I was invited into homes to share a meal and to share time and presence with each other. I learned that each person you meet is so much more than their first impression.
Later on my role shifted to a position that was not live-in, but that continued overseeing programming and volunteer coordination. I found that I enjoyed building bridges between Canadians and newcomers, both who may have never met people outside of their majority culture. I could tell you many stories of the beautiful and genuine friendships that developed within the Welcome Home community as people encountered each other as friends. This importance of encounter and relationship is something that I will continue to take with me into our ever polarizing society as I continue in the work of welcoming newcomers to Canada.
The Masters of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) program drew my attention with its focus on peace-building both locally and globally. The program is building my skills in mediation and reconciliation with a strong focus on civil society and the great potential civil society has to transfer communities. Recognizing that conflict is a regular part of the human experience, I am gaining a deeper understanding of the complex roots of conflict as well as peace-building strategies that can be applied to international-level conflicts as well as interpersonal. The MPACS program offers an internship option for students who desire to apply what they are learning in their classes to the real world. This spring, I have had the opportunity to intern at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as a member of their Refugee Resettlement team. It has been an incredible experience as I have been able to walk with sponsorship groups in Canada, resourcing them and supporting them as they welcome refugees to their community.
I believe that the MPACS program is equipping me with the skills needed to be a changemaker and peacemaker in my future vocation. The program has a flexible and interdisciplinary approach that allows me to write papers and research around areas that I am most passionate about such as forced migration. My goal and desire is to continue working in refugee resettlement work in Canada. I hope to work at an organization like MCC that is not only welcoming refugees to Canada and working in advocacy and settlement locally, but also working towards peace internationally by partnering with local agencies within refugee camps and other peace building projects. MCC recognizes that international development and peace-building is complex and needs to be addressed in all sectors and at all levels of a community. I am proud to be interning at a development organization that encompasses such a holistic approach to their work.
As I look to the future, I hope that I can continue to welcome refugees, to be a friendly face in the midst of the chaos of being new in Canada, as well as being a bridge builder between newcomers and Canadians. There continues to be so much fear of “the other,” of people who look different and act different than the majority culture, which is reinforced by social media. It is building a society of fear where we separate ourselves instead of coming together. I have seen how my life and my family’s life has been transformed due to our friendships with people from many different countries, religions and cultures. In order to continue building strong communities, we need to make sure we surround ourselves with diverse voices. Who you are in relational proximity with will determine what is important to you. It is my desire to welcome refugees to our communities and encourage people to think creatively of how they can also welcome people to their communities, building bridges instead of walls.