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  • May 25, 2021

    Summer Practicum Students 2021: Leaders Ready to Contribute to Human Rights Education!

    MARL welcomes four incredible students to our team. Read to learn more about the fantastic addition to our team this summer.

    This summer, four students from the University of Winnipeg’s Global College and the University of Manitoba’s Human Rights Masters will be completing their practicum placements with us! These five student leaders bring with them their wealth of knowledge and experiences ready to contribute to human rights education in the province of Manitoba. In this blog post, get to know these incredible students; Chelsea Bonan, Marylyn Mawuena Afenyo, Shelley Smith, and Dennis Asebi Boakye Atuahene.

    Chelsea Bonan

    It is a pleasure to be writing for MARL and sharing a bit about myself. My name is Chelsea Bonan and I am a fourth-year student at the University of Winnipeg pursuing a double major in Linguistics and Conflict Resolution. I started my degree with a love of language and culture after living a year abroad as an English teacher and travelling to many different countries. I believe that language and culture reflect the beautiful diversity in the world and helping people understand each other is very important to me. Outside of University, I am an Italian teacher, a pavilion coordinator at Folklorama and an English teacher at Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. 

    Last year, I was unsure where my interests would take me as I was nearing the end of my degree. I decided to take two courses at the University called “Refugees and Forced Migration” and “Conflict Resolution and Human Rights”; these courses changed everything for me. Learning extensively about the persecution of individuals based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion ignited a flame within me to advocate for human rights in my own community; this is the main reason why I chose to do my practicum at MARL. 

    My true passion lies in intercultural communication and peacebuilding. People often look at intercultural communication as something that crosses national or ethnic boundaries, but it is so much more. Intercultural communication crosses other social boundaries such as gender, sexuality, age, and religion. The language we learn and use is directly linked to the types of relationships we have with others. Listening, learning, acknowledging, and respecting diversity is necessary to uphold human beings’ inherent rights and dignity.

    My goal for this practicum is to bring people together to engage in necessary conversations and facilitate constructive dialogues on important issues such as racism, xenophobia, and systemic inequalities. I believe that education is an essential and powerful tool for peacebuilding. If we can spend time trying to understand and learn from each other, it can positively change our communities. This is one way to bridge divides in our society, which is necessary now more than ever in our globalized world. 

    After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in the immigration sector, supporting and resettling asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees. I believe it is imperative to provide newcomers who are fleeing persecution with a new opportunity, a chance to rebuild their lives and sustain their identities with dignity. On a grand scale, I dream of working for a human rights organization such as Amnesty International, UNHCR, or HRW because they provide aid and advocate for the most vulnerable people in society. 

    I look forward to applying what I have learned thus far in my degree and contributing to local peacebuilding initiatives with Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties.

    Marylyn Mawuena Afenyo

    My name is Marylyn Mawuena Afenyo, and I am from Ghana. I started to develop a keen interest in human rights during my undergraduate degree in social work. I realized I wanted to specialize in human rights, so I took another degree in International Relations to understand international perspectives on human rights. However, I still found myself wanting to learn more about human rights, so I was excited when I found out that the University of Manitoba offered a master’s in Human rights. It felt right to go for it because I want to develop a career in academia and work with the United Nations, particularly UNICEF. 

    I remember the day I received my offer letter from the University of Manitoba; it was April 1st, 2020. I was so happy. As an international student from Ghana coming into the University of Manitoba, I had a bucket list of things I wanted to do during my studies. I was excited about experiencing a new country and interacting with new people. I had a couple of sites I had in mind to visit during my stay in Canada, like Niagara Falls, the Human Rights Museum, and other amazing sites in Canada. I was sure I would do all that and more until Canada officially imposed restrictions and school was moved online. I was disappointed, but I also clearly understood the impact of COVID-19 and the need for such restrictions.

    It was hard to accept that I would be studying virtually for a long time because it was new for me. I have never taken online courses, so I knew it would be a major challenge for me not only studying online but also studying online from Ghana. One of the major issues I had to deal with was the difference in time zones. This affected the time I started and finished class. Some classes started at 11:30 pm, while others ended as late as 2:30 am. It was hard from the beginning because it affected my sleep pattern, but I have gradually adjusted to being nocturnal. It was almost as if I was in Manitoba because I was doing everything with Winnipeg time. One interesting thing was the change in times in the Fall and Winter terms. I had no idea, and before you knew it, the time had gone back one hour, and it seemed so normal to my Canadian classmates. 

    Studying online also meant having a fast and stable internet connection, which was a challenge for me in Ghana. Unfortunately, the internet isn’t as strong, fast, and stable as I needed to stay connected to my three-hour zoom classes. As a result, I will intermittently go off or freeze during my classes. I tried to change my internet service provider, but even though I had some very good days of internet connectivity, there were very bad days as well.

    Studying from home also meant dealing with distractions. During the lockdown, it was impossible to go to public libraries to have a quiet space for my classes. I was mostly home with my little nephew, who is less than three years old. I remember times he would cry or make so much noise during my classes. Even when I wanted to say something during class, like commenting, answering a question, or reacting to another question, I would keep my zoom mute to prevent disturbing the whole class. There were times he would be quiet until I unmute myself to speak. Then he would start laughing very loudly or singing, and the whole class will burst into laughter. My professors always understood during the few times he interrupted. Learning online due to COVID-19 has taught me so much. The whole experience of taking a Master of Human Rights online requires a lot of commitment, discipline, and self-motivation. COVID-19 did not affect the standards of grading or the learning requirements, and so it meant that students needed to work harder during this difficult time. There were days I was less motivated to do my assignments. Other days I felt so sleepy in class because of the time zone difference.

    COVID-19 presented some challenges, but I am happy to do my practicum despite these hurdles. I really appreciate the opportunity to work with MARL because of the great work this organization has been doing about human rights. Whiles, I am passionate about human rights, it is incomplete if other people are unaware of what these rights are. I am excited to contribute to MARL’s human rights education approach, which remains paramount in promoting the principles of human rights. I want people to know about human rights and appreciate their role in making the world a better place when respecting and protecting other people’s rights.  

    Shelley Smith

    Hello, my name is Shelley Smith and I’m a graduate student at the University of Manitoba. I was born and raised here in Winnipeg, located within Treaty No. 1 Territory – the traditional lands of the Anishinabe (Ojibway), Ininew (Cree), Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota, and the Birthplace of the Métis Nation. I am in the final stages of a Master of Human Rights degree and am excited to be working with MARL this summer as a practicum student. I previously completed an Advanced Bachelor of Arts degree at the U of M with a major in Linguistics and a double minor in Anthropology and Psychology, with a focus on child development and communication. 

    During my undergrad, I worked for the University of Manitoba Disability Services department (now Accessibility Services) as a Research Assistant for visually impaired master’s students, and a Classroom Attendant for students with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was also fortunate enough to work closely with a well-respected Winnipeg Speech Language Pathologist, who has done some fascinating research and software development on brain exercise and recovery from stroke. I truly loved these positions and made some lifelong friends, but it was during this period of time that I started to gain a deeper understanding of some of the systemic issues so many members of our community face.

    I had always had an interest in human rights issues and considered myself an advocate and activist. While running an ecotourism business in the early 2000’s, I formed close relationships with Eastern Manitoba area locals and became involved in land rights and environmental protection movements. I’ve fought long and hard within our medical system, ensuring the rights of a family member who has suffered for years with an autoimmune disorder. A blood test previously not covered by the government which determines the effectiveness of certain immune suppressing medications on white blood cell count is now provided free of charge for all Manitobans with autoimmune disorders, in part due to my family’s persistence. 

    Advocating for friends and family, working within the education system, and loving individual’s with disabilities has revealed to me some of the structural problems and systemic inequities that exist in our society. When the University of Manitoba announced that it would be offering a master’s degree in Human Rights, I applied immediately. I have a big loud voice, and a bigger heart, and a desire to make the world a better place. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. We can do better. This pandemic has shown us that.

    My main focus within the field of human rights is systemic discrimination, particularly those systems relating to poverty and disability. My current research focus is the concept of technology as a human right. Access to internet (infrastructure), internet affordability, access to computers, and the rights to fundamental social services such as health and education are topics I am exploring. This is why I am so happy and grateful to have the opportunity to work with and learn from MARL this summer. Their focus on educating youth, spreading human rights knowledge, creating new programming, and promoting greater social justice overall are a perfect fit for both my research and personal interests. I’m looking forward to working with this amazing team of dedicated and accomplished individuals.

    Dennis Asebi Boakye Atuahene

    My name is Dennis Asebi Boakye Atuahene (Alias Kofi). I am a graduate student from Ghana, currently pursuing a Master of Human Rights at the University of Manitoba. My current research interest focuses on Law and Sexuality, which is geared towards advancing the rights of Queer people in Ghana. 

    Why I chose Master of Human Rights: The first time I heard about LGBT was my first year in High School in 2006. Some students were dismissed for being Gay and Lesbians. I could not wrap my head around the whole issue because the students caught having sex with the opposite sex were only given lighter punishment like scrubbing the washrooms or weeding portions of the school land. I could not understand whether or not these students were dismissed for having sex or for having sex with the ‘same-sex’. As a naïve first-year student, my peers were not even willing to engage me in the conversation. I could only have such debate in my mental discourse and nothing more. It was heretic to talk about same-sex relations.

    In Ghana, whiles some have been afraid to openly talk about their sexuality for fear of persecution, those who have openly expressed their sexuality in a non-binary way have been faced with discrimination, torture, physical and emotional abuse, and even death.  Life, to me, is all about Human Rights. Our ability to fight for what is ours and make the world a safe haven for every individual is all about how Human Rights. I have always been a strong advocate of LGBTQ rights in Ghana. In a typical African Society, advocating for LGBTQ Rights is heresy and noise to the ears. For instance, on 21st May 2021, some queer rights activists were arrested in the Volta Region of Ghana. They have been charged with unlawful assembly and have been arraigned for court. But some of us have been able to stand firm in defending the rights of all minorities in each small space we find ourselves. I chose human rights at the University of Manitoba to pursue a course I deem noble and worth fighting for. 

    What interested you about MARL: When I chose the practicum stream for my Master of Human Rights course, we were advised to search among some list of organizations that nay interest us and be suitable for our career objective. I saw MARL on that list and quickly googled the name, which led me to MARL website. MARL’s objective of promoting human rights education and using an education-based approach to addressing the human rights issues in Manitoba and Canada fits my career path. I believe most Ghanaians have little understanding of queer rights, and it is only through education and workshop that would enlighten people about queer rights and queer individuals. 

    Future Aspirations: I am still at the Ghana School of Law pursuing my professional law course. I believe my internship with MARL and being a lawyer will give me enough exposure in professional work to fully make use of the skills and the knowledge I have acquired in my field of study so far. In addition, I want to open a human rights hub in Ghana that will fight for minority rights in Ghana and Africa at large. I believe education can bridge the gap between minorities and those who are hostile to minority rights. The ultimate goal is to help Ghanaian and African societies shift from a conservative and hostile understanding of queer rights to an understanding of queer rights and human rights as a whole. 

    MARL is excited to welcome these practicum students to our team this summer!

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