SASKATOON — The provincial animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is one of four winners of a 2016 Global Citizen Award from the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation.
Armella Sonntag has served as Development and Peace animator for Saskatchewan and Keewatin-Le Pas since 2009 — the latest contribution in a lifetime of international work and advocacy highlighted at an SCIC award night held Feb. 11 at Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon.
Longtime peace activist Trudi Gunia and refugee sponsorship advocate Klaus Gruber also received Global Citizen Awards at the Saskatoon event.
The fourth SCIC award recipient — activist Cindy Hanson — was honoured at a Regina gathering Feb. 9 at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.
At the Saskatoon event, Global Citizen award winners Sonntag, Gunia and Gruber each spoke, reflecting on their background, inspirations, international involvement and advocacy work.
Born and raised on a mixed farm at Goodsoil, Sask., Sonntag has been involved in international co-operation for over 30 years, something that has taken her from Panama to Peru to Cambodia and the Philippines, said her nominator Marcella Pederson.
“She was an active member of Development and Peace before joining the staff in 2009,” she said.
Quoting from SCIC literature, Pederson said: “A global citizen is someone who can look beyond the needs of their own community, their own country or their own ethnic group, and feel a connection with their fellow human beings worldwide. Global citizenship requires the protection of and the care for the living world in all of its diversity. Armella embraces all of that.”
Sonntag described her background, including involvement as a young adult with the Scarboro Mission Society, in an “egalitarian community of lay and clerics . . . salt of the earth people, many from rural Canada, who wanted to work in community in a cross-cultural setting.”
Five years spent in Peru as part of a Scarboro Mission Society community were challenging, Sonntag described. “There was huge disparity between rich and poor, and deep lines of racism against impoverished indigenous people. The country was under a hijacked democracy, there was an armed guerilla movement, a violent and corrupt military, with a paramilitary faction and a terrorist group called Shining Path.”
Violence and brutal tactics by the various factions were frightening; the Scarboro Mission Society planned emergency escape plans, and urged missionaries to self-censor their writing and their words. “There was a real feeling of isolation and vulnerability,” Sonntag said. “All I wanted to do was feel safe. I really understand people living in violence — how the fear just goes into your body and psyche.”
After that experience, there was “cultural shock” in moving back to Canada, first to Toronto, and then to Saskatchewan, Sonntag described. “With the good connection between Scarboro and Development and Peace, Kim (her husband) and I were put in touch with the D & P community of Saskatchewan,” she said. “From that point on, we had our bearing. Here were people who already knew what was happening in Latin America. They asked informed questions, shared similar analysis and their spirituality was fully integrated into their social engagement in the province.”
Involved in D & P campaigns and committee work, Sonntag found that the campaigns helped situate their own Latin American experience into a global framework.
“D & P’s continual updating of the knowledge and analysis related to development work at the global level is phenomenal. I am convinced about D & P’s development model: it is always evolving, and the basic development principals are inspiring for me,” she said.
“One of the fundamental premises of Development and Peace’s work is that we have to recognize our share of the responsibility for global injustices.” This premise means that much of the organization’s development work is done right here in Canada, Sonntag noted.
“Our work in Canada is the essential and irreplaceable path of global development work.”
Sonntag said that she also admires how Development and Peace is in relationship with the organizations around the world that receive support. “Another premise that Development and Peace operates by is that the needs, perspectives, and knowledge of the most marginalized people must shape policies and programs. They are the authors. It ensures that the work is culturally appropriate and effective, using knowledge and approaches of the local protagonists.”
In accepting the Global Citizen Award, Sonntag recognized all of the “global citizens” working in the Development and Peace movement, asking members in the crowd to stand for acknowledgment.
In accepting her Global Citizen award, Trudi Gunia recalled the political education and inspiration she received from her father, and listed many of the causes and actions she has been involved with over decades of working for justice and peace.
She was co-founder of two peace groups while living in Manitoba, and involved with Development and Peace for many years. She joined the Saskatoon Peace Coalition in 2008, becoming an active member and co-chair, helping to lead many initiatives including campaigns, letter writing, demonstrations, and public education events.
Violent conflict, environmental problems and the rise of intolerance and hatred are among the biggest challenges facing today’s world, Guina said. “One of the solutions I believe is for rich, powerful countries to keep out of sovereign nations — that includes the use and sale of military hardware — and allow nations to find solutions to their own problems,” she said. “Our business is to lend humanitarian aid and help in other ways.”
Global Citizen Award winner Klaus Gruber is the refugee co-ordinator for the Anglican Diocese of Saskatoon, a volunteer position he has held for some 20 years. He has been a member of the Saskatoon Refugee Coalition since 1994 and a member of the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Gruber has also been on the council of the Canadian Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association, and a member of the NGO-Government Committee, a national body addressing refugee policies and procedures. Gruber is also a member of the Primate’s World Relief Fund refugee network, and has visited refugee camps and programs in Kenya, Cairo and Columbia.
He and his wife, Margie, have been personally involved in some 15 sponsorship cases involving about 50-60 people. Refugees have lived with the Saskatoon couple for various periods of time, from six months to about two years.
“Global citizenship means that all of humanity is one extended family,” said Gruber. “There have been many artificial divisions that humans have used to organize humanity: tribes, race, religion, geography, borders. However, we have much more in common than we have divisions.”
One of the greatest challenges is that “so many people still consider their self-interest compromised if others’ interests are also elevated. This sense of constant competition means that many of our systems (politics, education, economic, geographic) tend to advance skills to “win” over others, rather than advancing everyone,” Gruber said. “There are no easy solutions to the challenges we face. It involves education, healing, working together to accomplish common goals. Perhaps the most important work is to continue to help develop empathy.”
Increasing global awareness and interaction means that more people than ever before have exposure to other cultures, differing world views and different life experiences, he noted. “This has created the opportunity for understanding and more of a sense of connectedness. However, for some, it has also expanded their sense of suspicion and fear,” Gruber said. “All efforts of people coming together to enhance our collective nature and to ensure the common good must be supported and strengthened.”
Cindy Hanson, who was not present at the Saskatoon celebration, received the Global Citizen Award in recognition of her “lifelong commitment to activism,” which has included Latin American solidarity work, feminism, indigenous rights and international development, primarily as a gender, training and education adviser. She is currently an associate professor of adult education (University of Regina) where her academic and research interests continue to support global learning.
In a profile on the SCIC website, Hanson said: “Global citizenship is multi-faceted: taking care of each other, sharing with each other, and being mindful of the natural world.” She pointed to fundamentalism, militarism, and individualism as three global challenges that “increase global inequality in multiple and complex forms.”
Hanson added: “Possible solutions to global challenges can occur when people work together for change (for example, through participatory and direct democracy); change inequitable structures; and engage in activism; and finally, support communities and organizations that are working for change.”
The annual Global Citizen Awards are presented by the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation (SCIC), which was formed in 1974 by international development agencies active in Saskatchewan. Today it encompasses international development agencies, educational organizations, local community organizations, and the international relief committees of major churches.