Abeni Steegstra | 2018 Recipient

photo Abeni SteegstraThe 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.

Julie Moreno | 2017 Recipient

Moreno, Julie photoThe 2017 KLH Scholarship has been awarded to Julie Moreno. Below is her submission essay published with permission:

Having been born in Colombia and then immigrating to Canada when I was young, has exposed me to the numerous challenges faced by refugees and displaced persons when they arrive in host countries.  My early experiences as an immigrant fleeing from a war-affected country have also taught me the distinct role that human rights, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding can play even in the smallest of aspects, shaping the direction of my academic and professional endeavors.  As a result, I became passionate at an early age about international development issues, particularly human rights, conflict, and transnational migratory flows.  For these reasons, I have made it my academic, professional and personal goal to create social change that impacts the lives of displaced people or refugees both locally and abroad.

My undergraduate degree in International Development allowed me to combine my personal intercultural experiences with the interdisciplinary nature of a social sciences degree.  Advance courses in the fields of international relations, political science, and development have equipped me with an understanding of specific topics, including how ot overcome power imbalances to violation of personal freedoms, as well as the linkages that exist between weak governance, underdevelopment, and conflict. Having this cross-cultural competency allowed me to critically examine conflict situations on various levels, which inspired me to dive deeper into the causes and consequences of systemic violence, displaced persons, peacebuilding, and the political culture of Latin America for my undergrad honours thesis.

In 2015, I attended a summer instituted in Quito, Ecuador.  Here I participated in several skills workshops on conflict analysis, mediation, and negotiation.  This course equipped me with the practical tools, knowledge, and hands-on experience to understand the complexities of conflict within and across border regions, as well as the types of interventions that can be used to transform them.

I also learned how to effectively apply concepts of cross-cultural and nonviolent communication as a peacebuilding resource in my role as a program coordinator and research assistant at the Centre for Mediation, Peace, and Resolution of Conflict in 2015-16.  Working in Ecuador, the largest recipient of refugees in Latin America, enabled me to combine practical skills with a theoretical understanding of conflict management.  During this time, I also led training sessions on conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and human rights for refugee and migrant communities in Quito, while raising cultural awareness to ease their transition in the host community. 

While conducting research in Ecuador, I learned that although violence causes thousands of people to seek refuge, social conflict and discrimination often continue to create problems in receiving communities.  Even if the amount and severity of violence is reduced, my research showed that conflict is still present in the lives of refugee and migrant populations.

In Sept 2016, I began my Master’s degree in International Affairs, where I am specializing in project management for development and humanitarian assistance.  I have completed and excelled in graduate-level courses that focus on human security, development project analysis and implementation, and complex humanitarian emergencies.  I have actively continued to research in international development and human rights, particularly on issues relating to environmental refugees, the economic challenges of Syrian refugees in Europe, and the lack of access to reproductive health care for Syrian refugees in the Middle East.

More recently, I began working as a co-op student at Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.  I am currently enrolled in a field course on human rights that will take place in Israel/Palestine in December 217.  The opportunity to combine human rights theory with practical and contextual implementation will complement my current research regarding the tumultuous context for refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East.  I am interested in analysing the human rights implications that arise from defining a state as the national home of one faith-based community, the human rights challenges faced by Palestinian in the occupied territories, as well as how these challenges are manifested over the short and long term.

Once I graduate, I hope to work with refugee populations that arrive in Canada from all over the world.  I also want to work on translating my research for use in public policy, non-profit organizations, and non-governmental organizations.  I believe my Master’s program will continue to prepare me with the relevant academic experience I will need to better understand and create policy regarding inter-group conflicts and reconciliation.  Knowing how to implement conflict management and peacebuilding in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of humanitarian projects is key, if refugees are to be successfully integrated in Canadian communities.  By building stronger communities and engaging in peacebuilding efforts, we as Canadians can help prevent future abuses of human rights both locally and abroad.

Corinne Laporte | 2017 Runner-Up

corinneIn 2017, the KLH Scholarship awarded a “runner-up” scholarship to Corinne Laporte. Here is her story published with permission:

My name is Corinne Laporte.  I am a student in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, minoring in Anthropology.  My interest in international development, and more importantly human rights, has always been a part of me.  However it started to consume me when I was fifteen and had the chance of going to a school offering short trips as an introduction to humanitarian aid.  That year, the teachers were going to Peru, to work in a youth centre called Cesavi.

When I was fifteen, I was lucky enough to travel to Peru in order to work with the population working at the Centre, but also to plant trees and repaint and renovate the house of a deceased priest.  He donated his house to the Cesavi and our group helped with the renovation.  We also brought donations from Canada, as much as we could fit in our suitcases, to donate to the neighborhood.  We were also there as part of a cultural exchange initiative with youth coming from different schools of Peru.  During that trip, I fell in love with sharing and understanding cultures, but also with the idea that all humans deserve an equal chance at life.

In the two years following, I went on another trip to Dominican Republic, and then to Haiti.  Both of those trips had the same core idea as the Peru trip.  Although now I understand that my “work” was much more along the lines of ‘voluntourism’ – the idea that we are inhabited with the ‘white savior syndrome’ when we go on trips we pay thousands of dollars for but that don’t really change much for the populations we visit – I can never regret my experience.  Said experience is what made me who I am, and directed me towards volunteering with Amnesty International as well as participating in different congresses such as the Sommet du millenaire pour la jeunesse, which focused on teaching teenagers about the Millennium Development Goals.

My volunteering experience eventually led me to go to university in the two topics I was most passionate about:  human rights and anthropology.

My university career has shown me how important it is to work with the populations affected in order to really bring change.  The more I study in Conflict Studies, the more I realize the lack of Anthropology in most humanitarian approaches, reinforcing the idea of the white savior I mentioned earlier.  Often the field of International Development has overlooked the communities it wants to help.  I found that professors or conferences were showing how we could help or bring about international solutions, but sometimes I would find that local populations were barely consulted, or not consulted at all.   Such ways of problem solving would then most likely fail, as they would fail to include the cultural aspects of those we mean to help.

In the near future, I will be applying to a Master’s program in Anthropology in order to concentrate on the anthropology of peace building and post-conflict building.  I would therefore want to apply what I learned throughout my university career on the field, especially with local NGOs.  In fact, the main reason I am applying for this scholarship is to hopefully participate in an internship offered by my University alongside the Canadian NGO Alternatives and the National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO) in Sri Lanka.  The latter describes itself as a “membership-based fisherfok movement of Sri Lanka that works with marginalized groups such as internally displaced persons, women and youth, to promote human rights and true sustainable development.”  The group works extensively with victims of the civil war, especially those whose lands were taken by the army and who have not been given back what was theirs.

I would like to apply the knowledge I have gained in the past few years in order to work effectively with NAFSO.  Going on such an internship would allow me to learn the process of how local groups encourage collective healing after the destruction of war.  The help of the scholarship would allow me to pursue my studies in a field I am passionate about, but also approach the difficulties of disadvantaged populations with a more human eye, hoping I could bring them even the iniest parcel of hope.

I refuse to pretend I know better, or that I’ve felt worse, than those who have been affected by war.  I refuse to assume that my university knowledge could make of me the best ally, or that they’d fail without me.  I refuse to approach equality and human rights issues with a top down pattern:  it’s clearly failed before.  But maybe I could, with my schooling, bring them some hope that not all western missions are meant to appropriate their resources, and that understanding them, and their way of life is essential to build a strong future with them, and for them.  I want to be their ally, and join strengths so that future populations aren’t displaced and hurt by the violence of wars.

My name is Corinne Laporte.  I am a student in Conflict Studies and Human Rights.  I won’t pretend I can save the world.  But together, maybe we can.

Inaugural Year

The 2017/2018 academic year will be the inaugural year of the Katherine Lemke Heinrichs Scholarship awarded to a fourth year undergraduate or post-graduate student in a Canadian institution enrolled in a program of study related to human rights and/or focused on displaced persons or refugees.

Check back here for profiles of all past and current scholarship recipients.