Dr. Darrell McLaughlin (seated, front) poses with STM faculty and Intercordia students past and present. (Photo by Vanessa Leon)
SASKATOON — Students and alumni gathered at St. Thomas More College on the evening of March 24 to mark the STM-Intercordia program’s 10th anniversary. The event celebrated the study abroad program’s challenges and successes over the course of the past 10 years, as well as key people who have worked to ensure STM-Intercordia’s longevity.
The night featured video greetings and congratulations from the national program’s co-founder, Joe Vorstermans, and community partner Esteban Polanco, the executive director of La Federacion de Campesinos Hacia El Progreso, STM-Intercordia’s host partner in the Dominican Republic. STM’s Chair in Catholic Studies had sponsored a visa for Polanco to visit Saskatoon concurrently with this anniversary, but the Canadian government refused his application.
STM-Intercordia, a flagship program in the college’s Engaged Learning Office, seeks to help students develop a sense of moral responsiveness and educated solidarity through living with and learning from marginalized communities across the world. Students take a course focusing on global inequalities and solidarity during the school year, and participate in four seminars that prepare them emotionally, spiritually, and philosophically for their experience. Students then spend a summer term abroad in a host community, connecting these larger theoretical concepts to their personal lived experience encountering poverty, social inequality, and cultural differences.
Intercordia Canada, a national NGO, was co-founded in Toronto by Jean Vanier and longtime L’Arche community member Joe Vorstermans. In 2006, a few years after Intercordia Canada’s founding, STM partnered with the organization to bring the program to Saskatchewan, and sent their first cohort of students abroad in the summer of 2007. Since then, STM and Intercordia have sent 98 students to live with host communities in seven different countries, as well as sending students to L’Arche homes throughout Canada. This year, the program will send nine students abroad: five to communities in the Rio Yuna basin in interior Dominican Republic, and four to live with indigenous families in the Ecuadorean Andes. One student will live with a L’Arche community in Cape Breton.
The celebration also featured a special thank-you to STM’s associate dean, Dr. Darrell McLaughlin, who has been instrumental to the program’s success, and is retiring this year. When the program began at the college 10 years ago, McLaughlin developed and taught the first sociology class associated with the program. Once he became associate dean of the college, McLaughlin was instrumental in preserving the program at STM while the national Intercordia organization went through a process of re-visioning. Students from years past sent videos of gratitude and congratulations to McLaughlin, which were edited into a presentation that showcased the contributions he has made to the program and the positive impact he has had on students’ education and their lives.