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  • June 23, 2022

    Learn more about MARL’s Practicum students 2022

    MARL’s New Children’s Program Coordinator, Sara Gibson 


    Sara is a human rights advocate excited to kickstart her non-profit career.  

    We are excited to welcome practicum student Sara Gibson (she/her) as MARL’s new Children’s Program Coordinator! 

    Sara is a human rights advocate just beginning her career in the field, with just under five years’ experience working with the federal government. As a practicum student at MARL (Manitoba Association for Rights & Liberties), she hopes to use her theoretical knowledge from the classroom and apply it in her work as Children’s Program Coordinator as she seeks to advance knowledge of children’s rights amongst educators and children themselves. 

    “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world” – Malala Yousafzai 

    Sara (she/her) holds a Bachelor of Social Science in Conflict Studies and Human Rights from the University of Ottawa and is currently pursuing a Master of Human Rights at the University of Manitoba. Before beginning her time at MARL, she started her career as a public servant with the federal government. During her time with the government, Sara worked with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC). At CIRNAC Sara worked with the rights of Indigenous peoples, specifically Aboriginal and treaty rights as protected under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. While her time at CIRNAC was rewarding as she began to see progress being made toward self-government and self-determination, she realized that there is still a great gap in knowledge regarding human rights, specifically that of Indigenous peoples.  

    Outside of her academic and work career, Sara has always been passionate about children’s rights. As a child she realized that not all children around the world enjoyed all the same rights and liberties that she did growing up in Canada. Specifically, she was drawn to the inequities of accessing education between boys and girls despite the right to primary education being enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In several countries around the world, girls are expected to stay home and do domestic work rather than receiving the education to which they are entitled. This, and the work of Malala Yousafzai, sparked a passion to explore the reasons for this inequity, and what can be done to promote the rights of other children both in Canada and internationally. Sara’s desire to address and understand these inequities and barriers was what inspired her to pursue her Master’s degree.  

    “The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela 

    Sara has always been keen to empower those younger than her with the spirit to make a change. Since an early age, Sara has been involved in numerous social justice clubs at school. This passion for change continues to this day and wants to inspire the next generation of change-makers. As the Children’s Program Coordinator, Sara is eager to do just this – she is keen to connect with children across Winnipeg, and Manitoba, so they too can learn about the rights they have as children, as well as the issues that children face.  

    Sara is excited to move to the non-profit side, learn the ins and outs of working with a non-profit, and connect with MARL’s network and partnerships. 


    MARL Welcomes This Year’s Education Coordinator Intern; Stephanie Zirino   

    “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams   

    Stephanie Zirino has taught for over a decade in local and international schools. Stephanie is pursuing a master’s in human rights degree with the University of Manitoba. Her focus is on experiential learning for human rights education. As a Social Studies teacher by training, she is deeply committed to exploring Reconciliation and working towards fostering a decolonized, inclusive, and brave learning environment. Stephanie is a member of the Global Teacher Inquiry Project, the Manitoba Writing Project, and has facilitated DEI workshops for Professional Development as well as Anti-Semitism education with Manitoba Education and Training. As MARL’s Education Coordinator, Stephanie will work to promote human rights education for all Manitoban communities. Outside of education, she spends her time giving treats to her dog.  

    1 – What does Human Rights mean to you?   

    Human Rights are the inherent dignities that each person is born with. They are diverse, inclusive, and to be respected and promoted by each one of us. While we have foundational instruments that protect our liberties, I believe that Human Rights are rooted in our lived realities. They are the protections that we experience and offer to ensure each person lives their life as authentically as they choose. A society in which Human Rights are respected is one in which all people have access to their Human Rights and the space to fully enjoy them.   

    I am confident that through Human Rights research and advocacy we can combat ignorance, systemic inequities, and widespread racism. Together, we can work towards long-term and meaningful solutions for a future in which all people are treated with dignity and respect.   

    2 – What prompted your involvement in your community?  

    My background is in Education. In my experiences as a teacher, I have seen the wide array in which students are influenced by colonial systems and pipelines. As a classroom community, we explored social justice initiatives within our local context and began advocating for change. During this time, we coordinated Water Walks, food drives, and silent protests to help those who have been trafficked. We hosted Human Rights dinners to help fund girls’ education in Lesotho, Africa, raised funds and participated in the construction of a community clinic in Huisisilapa, El Salvador.   

    Culturally, as the daughter of Italian immigrants, my family volunteered each year at the Sons and Daughters of Italy Christmas Eve Feast. This was an annual community celebration in Winnipeg’s West End and later moved to Rossbrook House. In the Spring of 2020, the Sons and Daughters of Italy hosted a fundraiser supporting the Clan Mothers Healing Village, an initiative providing support to women who have been victims of intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, and exploitation. 

    There is more to be done. Our communities are adjusting to a post-pandemic reality, one in which many people experienced unprecedented levels of insecurity, fear, and mental health concerns. Now, more than ever, we need to come together as a community to support one another.   

    3 – What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from community involvement?  

    I have learned that it truly does take a village.   

    I am often humbled by the incredible and life-giving stories of people in our community. I have learned that we stand on the shoulders of giants; of Elders, of newcomers, of first responders, of veterans, of educators, of families, and the list goes on. We are here today because the people that came before us came together to make a brighter future for the next generation. I have learned that we are each called to do the same.  

    I have learned that it is important to “empty your cup” and listen to the experiences, wisdom, and stories of the people around us. They have and will continue to guide our journeys.  

    Most importantly, I have learned that I have so much left to learn. Wholeheartedly, experience is our greatest teacher.   

    4 – If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?  

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her story of resilience and perseverance has shaped my personal and professional journey thus far. I am in awe of her unwavering belief in doing what was right and honouring her convictions. As women, we are often conditioned to act small and take up very little space. RBG rejected this at a time when that was unheard of. She became a beacon of hope for women everywhere; she truly blazed the trail of empowerment and gender equality.   

    The legacy of RBG has been well chronicled. But personally, her legacy remains that she unapologetically fought for justice. She spoke up against discrimination and injustice because it was right, despite it not being popular. In her words, “Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don’t just do it for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.”   

    5 – What interested you about the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties (MARL)?  

    MARL’s goal is to “envision a society where people’s diversity is valued, liberties are respected, and rights are lived.” This is something that is deeply important to me. The work that MARL is doing with outreach and education workshops is making an impact in so many classrooms and communities. I think that reaching young people and having conversations about topics like sustainability, anti-racism and oppression, refugees, and the legacy of colonization are foundational to creating a more open and decolonized society. After meeting with Sandra and hearing a bit more about the history of the organization and the incredible work that MARL is doing, I knew I wanted to be a part of this. The advocacy and commitment of organizations like MARL will change lives, communities, and systems. I am looking forward to participating in all of MARL’s workshops and learning from some unbelievable people! I am truly honoured and grateful to be a part of such an incredible movement.  

    ~Stephanie Zirino

    My name is Sabbontu Abdushekur, and I just finished my first year in the Master of Human Rights program at the University of Manitoba. I am originally from Toronto, Ontario,  and I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto with a double major in Criminology and Women and Gender Studies.  

    Human rights advocacy has always been a part of my life. Inspired by my parents, who are both human rights activists, I have always been committed to speaking up against injustices. My family is from the Oromo region of Ethiopia that has been fighting for independence and self-determination for over 30 years. My parents have always been at the forefront of advocating for the rights and freedom of the Oromo people. Their determination and challenging work have inspired me to pursue human rights at the graduate level and learn how to effectively advocate for victims of human rights abuses at the international level.  

    During the past couple of years, I have been strategically advocating against the human rights abuses of Oromo people during the war in Ethiopia. I have organized numerous protests, rallies, social media campaigns, call drives and more to shed light on the state sponsored violence occurring in Ethiopia. I also served on the board of a youth organization in Toronto where I was the event and social media coordinator. I worked with youth, community leaders, and women to create and host various outreach, networking, and social events tailored to the Oromo community.  

    My passion for advocacy is what led me to work with Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties. As the advocacy and volunteer coordinator, I look forward to expanding my advocacy toolbox by working with the BIPOC and Youth planning committees on advocating for human rights.  

    “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”- Malala Yousafzai.  

    ~Sabbontu Abdushekur

    Everyone faces inconveniences in their lives. Some of them are easier to overcome, some a bit more challenging, and then there exist structural inequalities that favour certain members of society while putting others at a disadvantage. As hard as they are to overcome, it is often harder to discuss the underlying issues fueling these injustices. When I first arrived in Canada, I was overwhelmed by the variety of options and the decisions I had to make to start a new life. Fortunately, there was support available at every step of the way. I met people from diverse backgrounds who had found a home in Canada, much like myself, but I couldn’t ignore some glaring inconsistencies in this picture-perfect image. After enrolling at the University of Winnipeg, when I learned about the historical injustices faced by the Indigenous people of Canada, the story sounded all too familiar.  

     Growing up in Pakistan, I witnessed inequalities of all kinds around me, from income and class disparity, to racial and gender discrimination. At the root of many of these issues was the impact of colonialism whose vestiges are still visible. I was surprised to discover that most new immigrants are not only unaware of the similarities we share with the Indigenous communities, but there are also a lot of misconceptions that hinder our interactions. When I decided to pursue a career in writing, I was drawn to these concepts that discuss the root cause of issues in our society.   

    My education taught me how to deploy critical thinking to evaluate an argument and the more difficult task of articulating it in a manner that people from various backgrounds can identify with. I believe there is an audience for constructive critique of narratives that are fed to us by popular media. It is easy to divide people along political and ideological lines, but it requires effort to bring them together on issues that plague us all. For me, the fight for human rights is also a fight among narratives. Spreading awareness through grassroots programs and holding inclusive conversations is the first step toward removing many of such misconceptions. My hope is to bring issues related to power and privilege to the forefront of the conversation so we can come up with solutions that include all members of the society, without discrimination. 


    My name is Damhat Zagros, and I am Kurdish, originally from Afrin, Syria. At the age of 17, soon after the Syrian conflict had begun, I fled to Lebanon with my mother and two of my brothers. We lived in Lebanon for six years as refugees, where I was not able to continue my schooling and was forced to work in manual labour. I came to Canada (Winnipeg) in 2017 as a refugee through the government and UNHCR resettlement program. 

    School was always important to me and one of my dreams was to go to university, but I knew I had to improve my English and finish high school first. So, after only a few months being in Canada, I went to MITT full-time to learn English. After a year and a half, I switched my English class to evenings so I could go to adult high school at Horizons Learning Centre in the morning. After one year I graduated with a high school diploma in January 2019, something I was immensely proud of after having my school interrupted for seven years. 

    While I was going to high school, I spent my free time volunteer interpreting, using my Kurmanji and Arabic skills, to help newcomers at a few organizations such as Accueil Francophone, Kurdish Initiative for Refugees, Altered Mind’s Entry Program, and the Yazidi community. Also in 2018, I started my own project called Youth Building Youth, in which youth supported youth. A small part of the project was a sports program that partnered with Nuk Mauy gym to let newcomer children who survived war practice Thai boxing. It was successful for being a volunteer-run program.  

    Learning from my experience did not end after my arrival in Canada. Being in a new place and society with broken English, as I label it, added to my struggles. Reflecting on the challenges that I faced in Winnipeg inspired me to help other youth in the community who are in the same boat as I was. In 2017, I started with the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees as a volunteer in the summer camp program. Since then, I have worked at the program every summer, either as a Program Supervisor or a Coordinator, having the privilege to work with Syrian, Kurdish, Yazidi, and other youth.  

    In June 2020, I started at the University of Winnipeg, majoring in Human Rights in hopes of someday reaching my dream of being a human rights lawyer. My personal experience as a Kurdish, Syrian, undocumented worker in Lebanon, as well as a refugee and a newcomer, draw the map to my passion for Human Rights. I find myself and my sense of belonging alongside my global citizenship. 

    I am really excited about this opportunity to learn from other members of MARL’s Advisory Committee. 

    ~Damhat Zagros

    What does Human Rights mean to you?  

    Human Rights for me, unequivocally intersect with dismantling systems of oppression and advocating for and empowering groups who are marginalized. Human rights are fundamental entitlements inherent to all humans. Human rights are political, contingent on demands from society (economic and cultural) as well as the politicization of individuals as subjects. To make a human rights claim, an individual must be a political subject of a society that agrees in the protection and promotion of human rights. To be a political subject, states often privilege those who fulfill state expectations of what it means to be a ‘proper’ subject. Although there is an element of universality to human rights, not all universal entitlements are functionally enjoyed. That is, individuals may have constitutional and legal rights, but socio-economic barriers may deny them the enjoyment of that right. This denial is contingent on power imbalances. Not all individuals have the same privilege to enjoy entitlements compared to others. 

    What prompted your involvement in your community?  

    My involvement in the community began when I started to realize the power of community stories. A talking topic amongst the kids on the playground at my elementary school was our grandparents’ war stories. As Mennonite kids, these war stories did not glorify what they did in the war but what they refused to do. Their cunning stories about non-violently resisting oppressive governments captured our imaginations. We boasted about how our grandparents refused to participate in diminishing the agency of others. I believed my Opa (grandfather) had the best story. My Opa was a storyteller, he was infatuated with history and made documentaries telling the story of Mennonites fleeing Russia during World War Two. Telling stories gives agency to the storyteller and their communities. Telling stories functions as exercising inherent rights, regardless of the approval of dominant institutions, it fosters agency and determination. For my Opa, telling his story was exercising his agency, his inherent right. An opportunity he was only afforded after fleeing persecution. 

    My Opa was one of the most important catalyst ingredients in my life. He instilled in me a conviction and deep desire to create opportunities for individuals and communities who are actively silenced or muted. My culture is my history, a history told through stories. Like my Opa, I want to advocate and show up for those who are not being heard. I want to be involved in creating and advocating for outsider groups. I believe that for communities to thrive they need to be able to tell their stories. Only when I began listening deeply to the stories in my community did I feel an increasing sense of belonging. I understand that not all communities in our country get the same privileges to tell their stories, this is something I want to be part of transforming.  

    What is the biggest lesson you have learned from community involvement? 

         In the Peace and Conflict Transformation (PCTS) program I discovered the power of community, relationships, and stories. In this program, I learned about hegemony and absolute forms of power that shape norms and conventions. I learned how to analyze layers of deep-rooted conflict and how systems function. In doing so, I realized how important horizontal power systems can be in advocating for change. When low-power level groups coordinate their people-power to reach higher level groups, they can integrate their ideas to achieve change. This means they can impose their agency on power holders. Coordination, however, is contingent on fostering communities. I discovered the power of community networks and found comfort and healing in being supported by the community. 

    If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?  

     If I could meet anyone in the world it would be Oscar Romero. As a peacebuilder, I am deeply passionate about using non-violence to dismantle systems and structures of oppression. Romero worked to change the hegemonic structures of oppression and violence. Romero utilized the media (radio) as a means of mobilizing the masses against an oppressive government. I would love to talk to him about how to organize communities within a system that is doing everything in its power to oppress and suppress human rights. I admire Romero’s commitment to non-violence and his empathy for the marginalized.  

    What interested you about the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties (MARL)? 

    Central to my interest in MARL has been learning how power and privilege operate. My program has inspired a keen desire to analyze hegemonic structures, institutions, and stories. As a result, I want to be a part of changing structures, institutions, and communities to enhance the wellbeing of others by cultivating agency. As a personal goal I want to be more involved with organizations in the city doing human rights work. I want to share stories to educate and organize the MARL community. 

    ~Mitchell DeFehr

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