Young, graceful Laura Soucy has big, yet achievable, dreams. A free-spirit from the start, Ms. Soucy is one of three children. She was raised in Moncton, N.B., but when it came time to find a music program that would suit her needs, she did not hesitate to relocate to St. John’s, NL. “The music program at Memorial is very good, particularly as it relates to my instrument – the violin,” explained Ms. Soucy. “This is one of the few schools in Canada that offers a conjoint degree program in music and music education. It is great to have them together because you can really make the connections between your courses,” she added.
Her desire to travel and interact with people of other cultures has Ms. Soucy making plans for the future. “I hope to establish a music program at the Kigali International Community (KICS) School in Rwanda. There is no music program of any kind right now. Music instruction can help achieve the Rwandan government’s desired increase in literacy and numeracy with the goal of eradicating poverty. By Christmas 2007, I will be ready to head for Kigali where I will stay and make plans for a music program to start in the 2008 school year.”
At the KICS, there are approximately 100 international and local students. Using her experience with the cultural traditions from Newfoundland and Labrador as an inspiration, Ms. Soucy hopes to develop a curriculum that focuses on indigenous music.
“Music is a form of language, one that can cross all barriers. It brings laughter, merriment, and happiness. It builds self-confidence. A music curriculum for Rwanda that includes both western and indigenous music will allow students to experience world ideas, cultures, and modes of expression; to make informed decisions and be actively involved in the development of their country while maintaining and continuing their own vital cultural traditions,” summed up Ms. Soucy.
Summer school with a difference
While munching on a peanut-butter sandwich and waiting for a fellow master’s student, Vanessa Donnelly, BA’99, BN’00, made the unexpected decision to travel to Gambia, Africa, to teach about diabetes prevention. By July 2006, Ms. Donnelly was on her way.
In Gambia, when diabetes patients run out of meds and supplies, they simply run out. They don’t have blood glucose metres or pens; there are no compassionate care programs. Diabetes is considered a death sentence. “Countries like Gambia depend on the kindness and generosity of rich countries like Canada,” explained Ms. Donnelly.
Her volunteer role involved the establishment of a summer school to improve community health and governance through youth development and leadership. For five weeks, Ms. Donnelly focused on diabetes education and prevention. She helped students develop greater communication and leadership skills so that when they returned to their communities, they would convey this new health information more confidently and become leaders in their schools. For Ms. Donnelly, this meant “peer health education.” That is, having the students act out what they have learned in front of their peers.
While in Gambia, Ms. Donnelly was housed at the Gambia Pastoral Institute, which reminded her of her days in residence at Memorial. “I lived with four other teachers in Gambia and we did everything together. We walked home from school, ate mangoes for supper, went to visit each other in our rooms, and just became really good friends. We were all very different people; by living together, we came to share something in common. This was just like Burke House. I had a feeling of déjà vu as I walked the hallways of the Pastoral Institute. I had come full circle,” explained Ms. Donnelly.
“Gambians are indeed very poor, at least from a monetary perspective,” summed up Ms. Donnelly. “Yet they are so creative in finding solutions to problems. My biggest lesson is the positive attitude they exhibit with every challenge they face – and they face so many more than we could even imagine.”
Ms. Donnelly works as a Diabetes Case Management Coordinator for Medicine/Geriatrics/Critical Care with the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, N.S. She will speak at the Canadian Diabetes Association/Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professional Conference in Vancouver during October 2007.
The power of play
As a young girl, the vivid National Geographic photographs of people leading lives and facing hardships that were vastly unlike her own experiences struck a note with alumna Anne-Marie Bourgeois, BPE(Co-op)(Hons.)’03. It was then she vowed to try and make a difference in the global community.
In 1999, Ms. Bourgeois took her first steps toward fulfilling her goal to help others when she moved to St. John’s and enrolled at Memorial University. During her time at Memorial, she learned of Right to Play, an international non-governmental organization with a mandate to create a healthier and safer world for children through the power of sport and play.
With degree in hand, she applied for a one-year volunteer position with Right to Play (RTP) and, in 2004, was selected as project co-ordinator for a program in Kigoma, Tanzania. Ms. Bourgeois commuted to six remote camps where she worked with almost 250,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees and trained refugee youth and adults as coaches. This resulted in the emergence of local coaches who continue to train children in sport and play programs with very limited involvement from international volunteers – thereby achieving RTP’s ultimate goal of sustainable development.
She has witnessed the smiles on the faces of the children and coaches, observing first-hand the positive powers of sport and play. RTP enables children in the refugee camps to forget – for a short time – some of the hardships and traumas they have faced before and since they fled their home countries; the difficulties of life in a refugee camp; the sadness they feel for lost family members; and the worries they face for their futures. “Despite all these troubles,” said Ms. Bourgeois, “these people are happy, smiling, fun-loving, vibrant, and welcoming.”
Ms. Bourgeois considers her two years – she applied for an extension after her first year – in Tanzania as the most challenging and meaningful period in her life to date, firmly fueling her desire to work in the field of international development.
“It has been a great honour to be part of such programs in areas of the world where children are victims of war, poverty, disease, loss, and countless other horrors,” she concluded. “I learned more than I was able to teach and more about my own personal strengths and weaknesses. The sheer spirit and tenacity of the refugee and Tanzanian populations both inspired and humbled me. I am eager to contribute once again to the global community!”