SASKATOON — St. Thomas More College is the sort of place where students are challenged not just academically, but philosophically and spiritually. This was clear during a recent Theology on Tap talk: Solidarity Across Borders: Resistance Narratives in the Dominican Republic. On Feb. 24, STM Engaged Learning co-ordinator Caitlin Ward and students Shannon McAvoy and Kristina McFadden spoke about their experiences with the Intercordia program.
The Intercordia program, Ward explained, is an “international study abroad in which students live with and learn from host communities in the Global South.” This year, the students are going to Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. In other years, students have gone to Honduras.
Ward explained that there is deliberate focus on Latin America in the program. For one thing, while the host countries are different, there is a greater degree of similarity among them. Further, and Ward stressed the importance of this point, this part of the world is the birthplace of Liberation Theology and Intercordia is about “cultivating educated solidarity and morals responsiveness.”
Ward explained that it is a “challenging” program, and she emphasized that it is “service-learning.” The students take a course at STM during the winter term, and another while they are actually in their host country. The course in their host country is not a classroom course. Instead, students are challenged to see how their thinking is structured, how the lived experience in their host country differs or conforms to what they were taught in the classroom.
It is clear from the talks given by McAvoy and McFadden that it was a profound experience for both of them. Each student told personal stories about things they had witnessed, living with their host families, and the challenges that they faced in their own assumptions.
McAvoy recalled explaining that she was Canadian, and found that the behaviour of Canadian mining companies in the Global South had damaged our country’s reputation among the residents of her host country.
McFadden recalled an incident where a group she was working with needed to accept sponsorship from a company that paid unacceptably low wages. She told us how she had assumed they wouldn’t accept the sponsorship, but afterward realized that this was what they had to do. McFadden also explained the difference between solidarity (working as part of a community) and charity (giving to a community while remaining separate from it).
Ward closed the talk by handing out a page to each of the groups that had formed for discussion. On the page were quotations from Dorothy Day, Dom Helder Camara, Jean Vanier, bell hooks, and Cornel West. The quotations were chosen to urge us to look beyond differences, to love others and try to understand “others’s struggles before attempting to help.”
When asked how long the Intercordia program had been going on, Ward admitted that was a tricky question. The national program was started in 2004, and it was brought to STM by David Peacock in the 2006/07 academic year. The reason it was a tricky question is because the national program ended (“hopefully temporarily,” Ward interjected), and this year STM is going it alone.