I first became aware of the work of Development and Peace through its advocacy. As the teenaged daughter of a very involved parish volunteer, I heard about the injustices perpetrated by multinationals in the Third World. In addition to her parish work on fall campaigns and Share Lent, my mother organized and facilitated a parish youth group which allowed my friends and I to begin our journey of caring for our sisters and brothers around the world. A few years later, as I began my teaching career, I participated in Development and Peace's 10th anniversary conference in Montreal. Then, I moved away from home and family influence. I spent the next several years building my own family and career, venturing out to Western Canada and finally settling down on a farm in Saskatchewan.
Sometime in the mid-90s I was teaching Grade 8 Christian ethics when Al Gerwing came to our school to present a slide show of the street kids who frequented the shelters in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for which he was fundraising. My students were moved by the saga of peasant families kicked off the sugar plantations where they had worked for generations, and whose dreams of finding work in the city were shattered in the slums where they found themselves. In response, and carried by the students' own compassion, I declared that they would all have to boycott candy since the mechanization of sugar plantations was responsible for this terrible injustice. Silence. Then, from the back of the classroom, a voice piped up: “Don't they grow coffee down there too?” I considered the coffee cup in my hand and felt the world shift. I could not, in fairness, ask them to do what I was not also prepared to do.
I agonized over the prospect of giving up coffee on my way home that night (an 80-km drive). I knew I had to teach by example, but how could I possibly face the morning without that all-important cup of java? Then, it came to me: fair trade! This would be a rich teaching opportunity! We would research the many and varied NGOs working to improve the lives of the marginalized.
In the next few weeks the students would scour Google in pursuit of information. Then, one day, another voice rose from amid the chatter of classroom work: “Madame Hélène! We have to do this!” The students had stumbled upon a play on fair trade coffee published by Ten Days for Global Justice. This would prove to be a watershed moment. The students put the play on for the parish and brought in fair trade coffee for sale. In addition, I attended a Ten Days conference in Fort Qu'Appelle where I met a Development and Peace activist, Christine Zyla. I had finally found my way back to my early D&P roots.
I started my service in Development and Peace as my mother had, at the parish level. Then I became deanery leader, diocesan co-chair, and was eventually elected national member for Saskatchewan Keewatin Le-Pas. Throughout that time, we started a Just Youth group in the school, organized many ThinkFasts, petition and card signings in the parish, school presentations with Solidarity visitors and we even pulled off a Social Justice Fair!
Development and Peace has been many things for me over the years. It has taught me how my lifestyle here has an impact globally. It has called me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and develop skills I never dreamed I had. It has allowed me to broaden my worldview through travel to El Salvador and more recently in the Middle East. D&P has also challenged my paradigms through my participation at the COP 21 Climate Summit in Paris and the World Social Forum in Montreal.
The work of Development and Peace is the one coherent and insistent voice of the Catholic Church which has nourished my faith through the years and called me to personal growth. I can't wait to see what the next 50 years brings! Happy 50th anniversary D&P!
Hélène Tremblay-Boyko, National Council member for Saskatchewan, lives in Yorkton.