An opportunity for youth to inform policy change

If you have ideas on how to improve policies and laws concerning our digital future, now is your chance to share them.

The Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CJE NDG) alongside the Goethe-Institut and ThinkYoung has received funding from the European Union for a transatlantic dialogue exchange project called “Our Digital Future — C’est ICI.” ICI stands for inclusion, collaboration and inspiration.

“The mission of the project is to produce policy recommendations to make the digital future safer and more inclusive for everyone,” said Ekaterina Fatkulova, the project coordinator.

This Thinkathon aims to bring the policy recommendations of youth forward to governments on all three levels: municipal, provincial and federal. Participation is available for youth between 18 to 30 from all backgrounds. It is a chance for youth to share their ideas and be heard.

“The online Thinkathon has a purpose to recruit 3,000 youth from Canada and Europe to work on this online platform,” said Fatkulova. “It’s to accomplish the same thing as we do in our 24-hour events but they do it online without a 24-hour deadline. They really have more time to produce these policy recommendations.”

All participants need to do is create a profile on the website, select a topic from six themes and create a PowerPoint highlighting their ideas for policy change. Participation can be done alone or in teams of up to four people. The themes are citizenship 4.0, social relations, smart & fast-expanding cities, security, education, and culture and entertainment.

Participants have until April 12 to create a profile and submit their ideas. Once all ideas are submitted, everyone who signed up online gets to interact with a mentor. “The mentor gets to say ‘that’s a good idea but it’s missing this.’ They are going to direct [the participants] into making their idea more concrete,” said Fatkulova.

Participants vote for the winning team. Winners are sent to Brussels to present their policy recommendations. The participants from Europe will travel to Ottawa to present theirs. The ones who win second place obtain $500 per team member.

“This project is designed around the basis that young people will have a chance to get in contact with people who will take their idea seriously to inform their policy proposals,” said Lynn Worrell, a youth worker at CJE NDG and communication outreach coordinator of the project.

Last year’s 24-hour Thinkathon connected 50 participants in Montreal with 50 ones from Brussels. They had 24 hours to come up with policy recommendations. One of the policy recommendations brought forward last year was universal access to digital literacy education.

According to Fatkulova, the 50 participants believe that government officials at the provincial level should allocate the necessary resources to funding programs that would help expand universal digital literacy while making sure that vulnerable and excluded citizens are prioritized.

“This is a project that is designed for people who are going to be future leaders to have an opportunity to practice how to inform policy change—how to give their ideas to policymakers,” said Worrell. “I think that this is so important because we have to make the future a lot easier for young people to regain control over their destiny.”

To participate and share your ideas in the online Thinkathon, you can create your profile today at


Photo courtesy of Ashutosh Gupta



Supporting youth in NDG for 20 years

For two decades, Carrefour Jeunesse-Emploi Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CJE NDG) has helped youth gain autonomy in their lives. The centre is located a few blocks away from the Loyola campus in the heart of NDG, on corner Sherbrooke Street and Benny Avenue.

“Everyone who walks through this door is either underemployed or unemployed,” said Concordia alumna and youth worker at CJE NDG, Lynn Worell. “Income has a direct link to your class, your class has a direct link to what your resources are, your resources have a direct link to your quality of life and how you experience this world in your life time.”

The CJE is a nonprofit organization that specializes in employment service support. They focus on youth aged between 16 to 35 who live in NDG, Côte Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Montreal Ouest. The nonprofit has served over 12,000 participants through their in-house programs and services.

Worrell has been working as a youth worker at the CJE for 10 years. She’s currently working with a program called Service Specialisé Jeune (SAE) which focuses on adults aged between 18 to 29 years old.

Ricardo Gomez, a third time participant of the Group 9 project as he stands outside the facility. “An environment can really help change one’s ability,” said Gomez. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

“Eighteen is a really challenging year,” said Worell. “It’s the year that you get kicked out of group homes. It’s the year that your mom stops getting [child benefit] bonuses and might put pressure on you for paying rent. It’s the year where you no longer qualify for juvenile detention anymore.”

The youth workers at the CJE go beyond their mandate to help people with job placements. They offer participants guidance for pursuing their education, finding a job, psychological support, resources for mental health services and workshops to gain essential life skills.

“I’ve done things like accompany people to court, I even drove all the way to Granby to a rehabilitation centre to check up on a client,” said Worell. “I set people up with lawyers, I brought people to domestic violence services.There’s a lot of different things that I do when it comes to accompanying my clients.”

Worell redesigned the SAE program for participants to have a better sense of belonging. Initially, the program demanded participants to attend six hours per week. Worell changed it to 15 hours per week.

“We made attendance really important because if you send a message to young people that it doesn’t matter if they come or not, then they are going to feel that it doesn’t matter if they come or not,” said Worell.

Within the SAE program there are two project leaders; Tima Khan and Jonathan Platt. Both are youth workers leading a project called Group 9. Alongside them was intern Van Leap Sry, a McGill student studying social work who assisted Khan and Platt in coordinating workshops and activities for the participants.

The Group 9 project consists of meeting the participants one-on-one, asking them what they are looking for, and creating an action plan on how to reach their goals. The group meets on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for a total of 15 hours per week. They work on achieving their goals while attending cultural activities and workshops.

“It’s not just [the participants] coming in, sitting down, doing a job search and working on their CV,” said Leap Sry. “It’s also a lot of cultural activities. All the workshops are really for them to get to know a bit more about themselves and to reflect on their everyday life.”

Activities include going to the gym, yoga, and volunteering at local partner’s of the CJE NDG, such as the NDG Food Depot.

“The idea is that we are looking to reintegrate or integrate young adults who are facing different challenges to employment stability,” said Platt. “Whether it is someone who has a hard time keeping a job or someone who is looking to reorient their career in some other way. What I’ve seen quite often is pretty significant mental health issues that are barriers and that might not be recognized by the government or the employer.”

For Khan, what is most rewarding is when the participants see fruition from their hard work.

“Sometimes there’s some isolation that happens because you don’t really see those people that are struggling in your neighborhood,” said youth worker at the CJE NDG, Jonathan Platt. “Trying to find creative ways to connect more with those people. Trying to look at the different avenues we can take. It remains a challenge but I am an optimist. I don’t give up.” Photo by Sandra Hercegova

“[The participants] have different stories, but the outcome is that they see results in themselves,” she said. “They see themselves being capable of doing more than they initially thought.”

The programs offered by CJE NDG such as Group 9 has helped a number of youth through difficult times.

“It helped me feel less alone in my struggles,” said participant of the Group 9 project, Ki Val.

“Being able to be physically present with other people, hearing about their own stories and their own struggles — that helps you realize that what you are going through, you are not going through alone. It’s very hard to realize that sometimes you need to take steps to get help. It’s insane how I didn’t realise how much I needed this.”

“The environment here is quite productive,” said Ricardo Gomez, another participant, who attended the program for the third time. “To be surrounded by people who all have their different goals, we are not linked to each other in any way except for our need to move forward and that has a very uplifting effect.”

CJE NDG has a lot of community support from nonprofit organization Head & Hands and other neighboring groups. However, there isn’t enough individuals signing up for the Group 9 project. Youth in the area are encouraged to pass by CJE NDG and explore their services and programs.

“There is quite a population of people who would benefit from our services and I just know it,” said Platt. “I am determined to find creative ways to make [people] aware of our services.”

“Sometimes we might not be experts in certain situations, but I think we are really good at being resourceful,” said Worell. “We either help you or we point you in the direction to help you — we’re really good at those things here.”


Feature photo by Sandra Hercegova


Fighting for the right to be paid

The Journalism Student Association (JSA) held a one-week strike against unpaid internships in solidarity with over 40,000 students and interns across Quebec.

The strike, which occurred from March 18 to 22, offered activities and workshops organized by the Journalism Student Strike Committee. During the strike, students were asked not to attend classes or hand in assignments, and not to cross picket lines.

Journalism students Miriam Lafontaine, Erika Morris and Jon Milton presented a strike motion at a January general assembly, which was approved. Sandrine Boisjoli, an education student from UQAM, helped students on the strike committee organize the strike.

“The biggest thing is that we want to get as many students together to put pressure on the provincial government to change our laws around internships,” said Lafontaine.

The students who participated in this strike fought for their right to get paid for their work. “We are doing valuable work. We are contributing something valuable to the community and that merits some form of compensation,” said Lafontaine.

Morris said she can’t take an unpaid internship because she cannot afford it. “I can’t juggle being a full-time student with my work and another job and an unpaid internship—it’s too much,” she said. “An internship is a valuable experience that everyone should have access to.”

Lafontaine argued there are interns doing unpaid internships who end up having the same responsibilities as an employee. “Those cases really blur the line between what is work and what is study,” explained Lafontaine.

Another issue raised by Boisjoli was how existing paid internships are mostly found in male-dominated work fields, such as engineering. “These people usually get paid internships that are well paid. Whereas, in more female-dominated jobs, interns have no remuneration or compensation,” she said. “We ask for the same equity […], to be paid and protected in our fields. This will help valorise our profession.”

On March 20, over 100 students from different universities and faculties gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin to march against unpaid internships.

“I’m here today out of solidarity for people, such as minorities and women, who are most  impacted by unpaid internships—people who can’t afford and who are not in a privileged position to take an unpaid internship,” said Caitlin Yardley, a Concordia journalism student.

According to Yardley, job security is another reason she participated in the protest. “As newsrooms are being impacted, there is no secret that they are hiring [unpaid] interns to do paid work. As a journalist that wants to secure a job in the future, we can’t let this trend continue,” she said.

Yardley said working 40 unpaid hours a week should be illegal. “I think that should be completely stopped,” she said. “If we can implement a mandatory wage for interns or a mandatory hour cap, that would make things a lot more equitable.”

Holding a “B**ch better have my money!” sign high and proud was the Concordia Student Union’s Finance Coordinator, John Hutton. “I am here because work is work and work should be paid—it’s as simple as that,” said Hutton. “Labour rights is student rights, it’s human rights, and it’s also a women’s rights issue.”

John Hutton, financial coordinator at the Concordia Student Union, proudly holding his sign during this week’s protest. Photo by Hannah Ewen.

According to Hutton, a lot of businesses have realized there is a constant flow of internship opportunities every year, so they have eliminated real jobs, which are then filled with internship positions. “It’s not just exploiting students, it’s also dragging down wages all across the workforce,” said Hutton.

Hutton hopes the provincial government changes the labour code for all internships to be paid. He would also like Concordia to change their policies. “Departments that require their internships to be unpaid for credit should have that [policy] removed so everyone has the chance to take paid internships and get credit for them too,” he said.

In the crowd, two social work students from L’Université de Montréal (UdeM) held a sign initialized “AÉSSUM en grève,” which translates to: “Social Work Association of UdeM on strike.” “For myself, and on behalf of the AÉSSUM, we would like to position ourselves concerning a blatant injustice: why are people from the social work field not being paid the same way as people who have a bachelors in engineering?,” said Laurence Blanchard, a social work student at UdeM. “We also deserve to be paid for the work that we do because it is work,” she added.

From left: Laurence Blanchard and Laurence-Anne Bertoldi marching for their rights as social care workers to get paid during internships. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

Blanchard’s classmate, Anne-Laurence Bertoldi, said this is also a feminist battle, “because we notice that a lot of the female-dominated jobs are not paying their interns,” she said.

According to Blanchard, within their social work program at UdeM, students are required to complete 750 hours of training through unpaid internships. “If you are not certified to have achieved these hours of training, you cannot practice as a social worker,” explained Blanchard. “Then we are told that these internships are volunteer placements but they are work placements,” she said.

Blanchard said that the majority of employers in their field support this movement. “What we want to say to the government is to wake up. We all work but it does not mean that, because we are in the field of social care, that we are less important. The government needs to adjust its priorities.”


JSA begins week-long strike

Students begin strike against unpaid internships in the journalism department

The Journalism Student Association (JSA) started their strike against unpaid internships on March 18. The JSA is taking part in a one-week strike from March 18 to 22 in solidarity with nearly 40,000 students on a general unpaid internship strike occuring at schools across the province.

“This strike of unpaid internships is directly related to our own experience as young journalists,” said Miriam Lafontaine, member of the JSA’s strike committee. Unpaid internships are super common in journalism and I think it’s time we have a conversation about that.”

Lafontaine and Erika Morris, who are both on the JSA’s strike committee, discussed the fine line between learning and working, at a press conference held on March 18. “There’s a large difference between going to class for three to four hours a week than to be doing an unpaid internship for 15 to 20 hours a week and to pay for that unpaid internship while not being remunerated for it,” said Morris.

In response to an argument about internships being a form of training rather than a job, Lafontaine mentioned how some interns who do unpaid internships end up with the same responsibilities as an employee which blurs the line between work and study. “We are doing valuable work—we are contributing something valuable to the community and that merits some form of compensation,” she said.

The JSA’s strike committee is organizing workshops this week such as “Know your rights as a freelancer + intern.” There will also be a workshop on protest safety measures for journalists.

Photo by Sandra Hercegova.


Concordia dance professor and choreographer, Florence Figols, combines research with the art of choreography

Exploring sensorial connections through dance around the world

Passionate, award-winning choreographer, Florence Figols has been fusing research with choreography to further explore body movement and its sensorial connections. She has been teaching at Concordia’s Department of Contemporary Dance for the past 20 years. The main classes she teaches are Choreography and the Creative Process.

“Dance was always present [in my life]. I was always choreographing in my living room,” said Figols. From her living room to an international audience, Figols’s choreographies and dance workshops have been presented in New York, Spain, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Figols is a second-generation Canadian. Her parents immigrated here to escape the civil war in Spain. Upon settling in Montreal, Figols’s mother wanted her and her sister to dance. She took her daughters to a dance school in Little Burgundy, where Figols would attend ballet lessons every Saturday morning for the next five years. At 14 years old, Figols switched to ballet-jazz and then discovered contemporary dance.

A glimpse of Figols’s dance workshop “Corpo sensivel, corpo relacional: composiçao sensorial” at the Instituto de Artes, University of Brasilia, Brazil in 2017. Photo courtesy of Florence Figols.

“I don’t know if it’s dance that chooses you or if you choose dance,” said Figols. “At one point the power is so strong—so overwhelming; you feel so connected when you dance. You feel the soul, the brain, the heart, the spirit, the body, the world; you feel everything connecting together. It’s so powerful. For me, it’s food. I need it, you understand?” she said.

Although Figols’s first love was dance, when it was time to choose a field of study upon completing high school, Figols chose chemistry. She studied chemistry for three years at Collège Ahuntsic. According to Figols, at the time there were no dance degrees offered at universities. “Despite that, I always kept dancing,” she said.

Figols went to work in the Northern Quebec region of Port-Cartier. She worked there as a chemical technician in a laboratory. In Port-Cartier, a dance company had recently opened where Figols would attend rehearsals in the evenings and on weekends. “We would do dance shows and tour around cities in Northern Quebec such as Sept-Îles and Havre Saint-Pierre—it was great,” she said. “I then realised that I cannot live without dance.” By then, dance was a degree option at universities so Figols applied to the Department of Contemporary Dance at Concordia University and was accepted.

What attracted Figols to choreography was the ability to creatively explore her background. “It was a way to search for a space within me that is empty. A space that is not filled up with information—a space that will remain a mystery,” she said.

My parents escaped a dictatorship regime, it was hard for them to speak about the past, about the things that happened on the other side of the Atlantic. There are a lot of things about their life that I do not know because they were not saying it,” explained Figols. “Because of the absence of words [from my parents], the absence of my origin, my past, it gave me a territory to dive into, to explore—that notion of identity, connection, empathy, memory [through choreography],” she said.

In 1995, Figols continued to pursue her education by attending the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and working towards a master’s degree in dance. During her master’s, she explored the creative process of dance through sensorial relationships of the body and its surroundings. “My son was three years old and my daughter was five months at the time. I did my master’s degree part-time and it was amazing. It was a beautiful and very rich period [of my life],” said Figols. This was when Figols was first introduced to sensoriality.

According to Figols, it is believed that there are only five senses, but there are in fact many more. “It’s as if your body is an orchestration. The body is an instrument, you can dance anywhere, anytime—it’s freedom,” she said. “A poetic body will create connection through space and time with its environment, other dancers and music.”

It was during the completion of her master’s that Figols interest in science intersected with her passion for dance, and she began studying proprioceptive movements. According to Figols, the receptors of movements are inside our bodies and just like our skin, they are distributed evenly everywhere. “I am moving, but I need to embody the distance that is between us,” explained Figols. “It’s all about connections—these connections are always changing. Nothing is fixed; everything is flux,” she said. “The way you train the attention is also moving in the body—even stillness is a movement.” Her main focus in research is sensory connections; Figols worked extensively on the haptic sense, which can be seen through a variety of her dance choreographies.

“I need to let my body speak during a performance. It’s a discipline to not own the movement but to let yourself be affected by the movement—that’s where we see the transformation,” said Figols. Stage presence, micro-politics of the dancing body and embodiment are also important elements which inspired her research and choreography.

“As soon as you say: ‘I am going to be present,’ it’s finished—you are already in the future, you are projecting a result,” explained Figols. “Being really in the present as much as you can, automatically will amplify your stage presence.”

In terms of micro-politics of the dancing body, Figols explored two questions: “Why isn’t there contemporary dance in totalitarian regimes? Why do communist countries like ballet so much?”

According to Figols, proprioception is the sense of self and that is why dances which inhibit this are not celebrated in certain regimes. “Contemporary dance is about the sense of self […]. It has no one traditional style that is transmitted from one generation to the next such as in ballet, salsa and tango,” she explained.

Figols believes that the body is the best technology ever created. “Our bodies are an infinite landscape. There are a lot of layers, a lot of processes in the body. It is not only muscle and skeleton,” she said. “When you discover everything that is happening right now; you are thinking, observing, your heart is beating, you are digesting, so many processes are occuring all at once.”

As Figols continued to explore the chemistry of the senses, she created mute / sense veu / en silence, which was named Best Choreography of 2006 by Hour’s Best. Within this piece, she used the map of her political origins as a metaphor to investigate methods of communication with her dancers. According to Figols, ‘Sense Veu’ in Catalan means without voice. “It was a real relationship between two people, a relationship with tension. I questioned the fears of the performers as well as my very own [fears] as a choreographer,” Figols said.

“There was a beautiful scene when one of the dancers was dancing on the back wall and the other dancer was throwing clementines at her. The audience was laughing at that scene— which was great because it meant they were engaged in the performancebut for me [the inspiration] came from the civil war in Spain, where people were killed against walls,” said Figols.

In 2008, Figols created and presented a dance piece called Transparent Shift, which was inspired by a tragic accident that happened to her in 1996. “I was hit by a bus and had to stay in bed not moving very much. I was looking at the ceiling and at one point I thought, ‘What if the ceiling was a stage?’” A few years later, Figols built a transparent stage with a table made of plexiglass, and a dancer would dance on top of the table while the audience watched from beneath. Transparent Shift was also presented in 2017 at the event “L’art comme cognition incarnée” at Hexagram, UQAM.

Since 2012, Figols has been a member of the Senses and Society Thematic Group, which she attends every two years. She is the session organizer for the art sector of the conference and has traveled to Japan, Austria and Toronto to present topics such as Performing Arts and the Senses, Artistic Practices and the Senses and Fluid Borders: Sensory Interactions in the Arts.

One of Figols’s most recent projects is called Choreo-Haptic Encounters, which she has been working on since 2015. Her research on the haptic sense has brought Figols the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico, Brazil and Argentina where she linked resiliency with choreography.

“I went to Buenos Aires and I worked with sociologists who use movements and art to do their own research and I had the chance to share all my creative processes which was very interesting and all my choreography work as well,” Figols said. She led a workshop in Buenos Aires and in Brasilia, where she spoke about Choreo-Haptic Encounters. “The haptic is the touch and movement combined,” explained Figols. Through her Choreo-Haptic performances, the objective is to stop judgement, to create a scenario where there is no possibility of categorizing identity. “The goal is to encourage a physical sensation,” said Figols.

To represent her project, Figols decided to work with two dancers who had never met each other before. Each dancer had their faces completely covered and were not allowed to speak. “At first you don’t know the colour of their skin, their accent, their identity,” she said. “I gave them different kinds of experiences such as sitting next to each other, pushing each other. Only through touch and feeling could they feel and deduce.”

Upon her return to Montreal, Figols spoke with her colleague, Melissa Raymond, an artist, urbanist, choreographer and Concordia alumna. Raymond assisted Figols during her dance presentation in Puerto Rico and is familiar with the Choreo-Haptic process.

“When I came back to Montreal we were having a coffee together and the idea of combining [a café experience] and the Haptic sense came together,” Figols said. According to her, the goal was to deliver this haptic experience to everyone, not only to dancers but to the general public.

Figols then realised that there was no longer a need for representation. “The participant is the performer and the audience at once,” she explained. “There is no spectator— it’s a participative installation –people are not watching this encounter because this would take away from the haptic experience. When people are watching you, you know that they are observing you and this can alter your experience.”

Figols and Raymond presented the first Haptic-Café experience in Montreal in September 2018 at an arts festival called Festival du Temps et du Silence. According to Figols, people came to participate, not knowing who was sitting in front of them and at the end of the event, they would reveal their identities and exchange their experiences. “Within a little book they left their testimony of the experience. This gave me the confidence to keep going. I might propose it here [at Concordia] at the SenseLab,” said Figols.

Many of Figols projects were made possible with the help from the professional development at Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA). According to Figols, CUPFA helped her obtain opportunities for further research on an international spectrum. “The university promotes research, but to do research you need funds to pay the dancers, to go to different events around the world,” said Figols.

Figols emphasized the importance of trying to put herself in the shoes of her students when working on course material, teaching methods and activities. “I tell myself that I am a 22-year-old student in 2019, and I ask myself, ‘What is the world like today? What do the students need, what will make them feel more equipped, more strong?’,” she said. “The goal is to give them tools for creation and for them to discover themselves.”




Fighting for justice, truth and accountability

The Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition invited Montrealers to show support to victims and their families.

Bridget Tolley, Julie Matson and the Gibbs family have one thing in common: a family member who was killed by the police. They also share a frustration toward the biases, unanswered questions, and dishonesty surrounding the subsequent investigations.

This year, the Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition held their ninth commemorative vigil on Oct. 22 in front of the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal, the largest municipal police union in the province. People gathered to remember the victims who lost their lives to police violence and abuse, and to support their families.

Bridget Tolley, the daughter of Gladys Tolley; Julie Matson, the daughter of Ben Matson; and Jeremy Gibbs, the nephew of Nicholas Gibbs, voiced their truth during the vigil. Police officers in uniform were also present as they stood behind the speakers.

“We want the truth, and if these guys can’t do it, they should step down,” said Bridget Tolley. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

“We all deserve justice,” Tolley said. “We deserve the truth. We deserve accountability. This is what we are here for. We are here tonight to honour and remember all victims who were killed by the police.”

Both Tolley and Julie Matson have been involved with the Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition since 2009. “It has been many years that we have been here, and I want to thank you all for continuing to be here and to support us,” Matson said. “It really does mean a lot as family members—it’s really hard, and it doesn’t get easier.”

Tolley’s mother, Gladys, was killed by a Sûreté du Québec vehicle in the First Nations community of Kitigan Zibi in 2001. Since then, Tolley has not stopped fighting for the truth and justice her mother deserves. According to Tolley, the reason she is fighting so hard is because of the way her mother’s case was handled. She said she only found out her mother’s case was closed a year after the fact, when a reporter called to inform her.

“I guarantee you, if we don’t stand up as people and do something now, this will become something that is consistent. They will start killing us—black or white, it won’t matter,” said Jeremy Gibbs. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

“None of the police officers contacted me. They told us nothing,” Tolley said. “I finally got the coroner’s report and there was […] one big mistake that said the family identified the body. That was not true. We were never able to see my mother.” According to Tolley, the only people who were allowed to see her mother were police. “We had two witnesses on the scene; their statements were not taken,” she claimed. “Only police were involved in this case.”

As Tolley shared her story with the crowd, she looked back at the policemen standing behind her. “All we are asking for is truth, accountability and justice,” she said to them. “Do things right. We are all human beings; we all deserve the same treatment. You get paid to help us, to protect us in any way you can—not to kill us or hurt us.”

Unfortunately, new families of victims become part of this vigil every year. Jeremy Gibbs, whose uncle was killed by police in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in August, was next to tell his story. “They dont give a f*ck. My uncle, he was not armed, he did not have a knife, he wasn’t running at them. He was calm, and they shot him five times,” Gibbs said.

“I am aware nobody is perfect. I am aware we all make mistakes. I ran into my own share of trouble in the past. But that doesn’t mean or give anybody the right to go and take somebody else’s life. Everybody should at least have an opportunity to change—but he didn’t get that chance. Now his kids won’t be the same. I won’t be the same. The rest of the family won’t be the same.”

“At every level, there are police officers protecting police officers. We have no chance,” said Julie Matson. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

Gibbs reminded the crowd of the importance of standing together and fighting for change. For 16 years, Julie Matson has been fighting for the justice her father deserves. In 2002, Ben Matson was beaten to death by police over a parking dispute in Vancouver. According to Matson, her father’s cause of death was asphyxiation from the contents of his stomach due to being held in prone position (lying flat with his chest down).

“In police training, they are not supposed to hold somebody in prone position for very long because it’s very dangerous,” Matson explained. “Yet, five police officers held him in prone position, kicked and beat him repeatedly to the point where he vomited out the contents of his stomach and choked to death. That is how he died, because somebody didn’t like where he was parked.”

Since last year’s vigil, Matson found out she has half-siblings. “Now, I am trying to get to know them, and there is this big question mark about this one thing we have in common, which is our father, and I just don’t know how to tell them how he died,” she said. “How do you begin to tell them that the police killed your dad? That police killed somebody you love for no reason. People should not have to die for any of the reasons that any of our family members have died.”

According to Matson, the only way to make things better is to change the current policing system. “We know this has not been working for hundreds of years, and the only way to actually try to get justice for us is to dismantle the system that is currently in place and try something new,” she said. “Because clearly, as more family members are joining us—which is just so heartbreaking—we need to come up with another solution.”

Photos by Sandra Hercegova.


Rap Battles for Social Justices takes a stance against sexual violence

From left, Milla Thyme and Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez during the Rap Battle for Social Justice show. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

The Rap Battles for Social Justice collective is uniting the Montreal community through activism and  hip-hop. Founded by Dan Parker in March 2015, the collective became a family of young musicians, artists and activists from around the world who use hip-hop as a tool for self expression and social justice.

Their latest show, “Rap Battle Against Sexual Violence,” took place on Sept. 28 at Reggies Bar in collaboration with hip-hop and soul band Urban Science, a community of Montreal-based female musicians known as LOTUS Collective, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Sustainability Action Fund. The show was a full house as the crowd occupied the dance floor and grooved to the hip-hop jams of the performers.

During Vyshan’s and Preksha Ashk’s spoken word performances, the crowd gathered together and hugged each other to demonstrate support. Before Vyshan’s spoken word, he presented alarming statistics to the crowd: “one out of six men have been sexually assaulted in Canada, which is a high number but nothing compared to the one out of three women who are sexually assaulted” said Vishan Chamaris (aka V-shan). “I am part of the one out of six and this next spoken word piece is going to talk about that.”

During his spoken word, the crowd responded emotionally to his words:

“See how a young man can go through some real shit, and he’s taught from a young age not to feel shit. So when shit happens to him or to his sisters, he does not know how to deal with it. See I’m 21, I’m a fucking man now and I only just realised, It’s okay, we get hurt too,” said Chamaris during his performance.

“It’s an honour and a pleasure to share this stage with Urban Science, LOTUS Collective and members of the community who took the time to share their stories, to heal, to transform, and to become more conscious about issues touching sexual violence,” said Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez, organizer and performer of Rap Battles for Social Justice and founder of LOTUS Collective. “We are taking a firm position against sexual violence,” she said.

“We have to acknowledge that sexual violence is rooted in our history,” said Gutierrez. “Some of us are closer to the trauma or to the pain, but we can all do better together.”

The event also fundraised for the Head & Hands youth centre SENSE project, which enables youth across Quebec to obtain sex education. During the event, Rap Battles for Social Justice raised $413 for the SENSE project.

“They will not only teach you about consent, they will teach you about healthy and safe sexual practices, how to acknowledge sexual pleasure, how to interact in a way that is more positive and helps us evolve as a society,” said Gutierrez.

Young musicians, hip-hop artists and poets then stepped on stage. For some, it was their first time performing. It took courage for them to publicly share their stories and experiences with sexual violence through music and poetry. Here is what some of the artists had to say.


Marcelle Partouche Gutierrez, organizer and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice and founder of LOTUS Collective

“It brings me a lot of joy to see people express their vulnerable, authentic voices and all of us sharing that together in one space on a couple of songs is really powerful,” she said.

Gutierrez has been an organizer and performer for the Rap Battles for Social Justice for three years. She is also the founder of LOTUS Collective, which aims to increase representation of women in hip-hop.

Gutierrez performed songs and rap verses that offer a positive outlook to those who have lived through sexual violence. “You can really heal and we have the right to feel sexual pleasure after we’ve been harmed and sexually violated or harassed,” said Gutierrez. “Together we can heal, independently we can heal […] Sex can be a beautiful thing and it doesn’t have to be violent,” she said.

“When you live through sexual violence it’s really hard to break the conception that you have of yourself and how other people see you,” she said.  “Whenever we live something really hard, we tend to build our whole identity on our sufferingI think that it’s necessary to live it and accept it, but it’s really harmful when you live with that your whole life because you are not what happened to you. You are a person that has so many dimensions and will live so many good things,” said Gutierrez.


Taliba Maud, organizer and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice

“I am an activist and I also rap,” said Maud. She has been involved with the Rap Battles for Social Justice as an organizer and performer for two years. Maud makes sure that the collective remains democratic. “Since we are a collective, we make decisions together,” she said.

During the show, Maud rapped about the sexual abuse and violence she witnessed at a young age. “My mother experienced a lot of violence, but she made sure to teach me that I have to respect myself. She taught me the importance [of respecting] my body, my spirit and to not feel responsible for the violence of the abuser,” said Maud.

“A lot of victims feel guilty, ashamed, or they feel dirty from the abuser’s actions or the abuser’s words,” said Maud. What I say in my song is that all this violence, it doesn’t belong to us [the victims]. It belongs to the aggressor,” she said.

Concerning verbal sexual abuse towards women often heard in rap music, Maud shared her perspective: “Hip hop is something that is alive just like language is alive, art is alive, the world is alivehip hop is what we make of it. If we use our events at the Rap Battles for Social Justice for the service and benefit of the community, then hip hop will have this positive colour,” said Maud.


Ashanti Mutinta, hip hop artist known as Backxwash and performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice

Backxwash performing at the Rap Battle Against Sexual Violence show. Photo by Sandra Hercegova

“I am from Zambia and came to Canada when I was 17 years old,” said Mutinta. “I like to rap and express myself through my identity and represent myself as a trans woman.”

Mutinta’s songs expressed how it’s okay to feel vulnerable and to use your emotions to express yourself in the aftermath of sexual violence. “You can empower yourself by using the anger that you have,” she said. “Hip hop is a good space to be in if you want to express yourself. Going back to my gender identity, [hip hop] is the perfect vehicle for expressing my rebellious state of mind.”


Destiny Gregoire, performer at Rap Battles for Social Justice

This was Gregoire’s second time performing for the collective. “It’s been a cool experience, because I get to meet different artists and they become my mentors and a type of family that really supports me,” said Gregoire.

Gregoire said that sexual assault is a subject that needs to be explored. “Doing a show like this is a way for people to finally talk about things that society doesn’t let us talk about,” she said. “My piece comes from a personal experience with my abusive ex boyfriend. When I wrote it, it came so natural to me because I was finally given the opportunity to talk about it and for a long time I was really scared of writing it and performing it. It’s a way to empower myself and it’s a way for healing. In my song, I wanted to tell the audience that it’s okay to speak up.”

There was a sense of unison and emotional bonding within the crowd during this show where #metoo became #wetoo.

Stay tuned for more about the Rap Battles for Social Justice artists in a short documentary that will be featured at The Concordian. Their next event will be in February 2019.

Photo by Sandra Hercegova


Northern Uganda: A dance scene in the making

Two young choreographers use dance to help change lives in their community

Walking by the Straight Talk Foundation youth centre in Gulu, Uganda, you can hear loud dynamic afrobeats blasting through speakers. As you enter the gate, a group of youngsters drenched in sweat from the northern Ugandan heat are having a breakdance battle while learning new choreographies and teaching newcomers. These dance lessons are free, offered everyday and open to the entire youth community of Gulu. Among this group are the founders of the Watwero Dance Company: Geoffrey Oryema, who is often referred to as “Message,” and Ojom Martin, known as “Beep.”

“Through dance, I got a family,” Oryema said. “My family is the people I dance with everyday. When people come in large groups to dance, I ask them, ‘Do you want to learn?’ And I teach them.”

Oryema’s life as a dancer began in 2007 in Kitgum, Uganda, when a workshop called Breakdance Project Uganda was held to campaign for peace. “In northern Uganda, we experienced war for over two decades. I had never heard of breakdancing before,” he said. “I had never seen it anywhere; I had no access to TV. Since the war started, it was the first time I saw people come in great numbers together.”

From left, Ojom Martin and Geoffrey Oryema. “We are targeting youth and they love entertainment and that is exactly what we are giving them. Through dance we are giving them an understanding that we really need to revise our culture,” said Oryema.

The dance workshop only lasted a day, but it had an everlasting impression on Oryema. “It was the greatest experience and feeling to see people happy because of those dance moves,” he said.

When the workshop was over, there were no longer any dance activities in Kitgum. “I kept pushing myself with those steps I learned … just to keep reminding myself of that day, because I felt peace. That is how I got to understand what peace is.”

When I am dancing, these memories from the war, they go away,”

When Oryema dances, he forgets about the war. “When I am dancing, these memories from the war, they go away,” he said.During the war, Oryema was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of seven. “I was in the bush for almost two years, and then I found my way back home,” he said. Upon his return, both his parents relocated to Gulu — without him. “None of them came to see me when I returned back home.” Oryema remained in Kitgum where he lived with his aunt. The arrangement was not well received by the community.

“They were calling me all sorts of names, like a war child, a killer, a rebel. Or sometimes they would say, ‘You need to be careful with this guy, he can kill you because he has been in the bush,’” Oryema recalled. He eventually left his aunt’s home to escape the torment, and ended up living on the streets. “I just started to live this wild life.”

In 2011, Oryema saw kids dancing once again at a playground in Kitgum. He asked them where they got their moves from, and they told him to go to the local Straight Talk Foundation youth centre. Oryema began attending dance classes there and never missed a day of training.

“It was as if I came back to life,” he said. “In a few months, I became a dance leader within the community because I gave it all my time. I wanted to be good so that I can make other people happy through my dance.”

Although Oryema quickly became known as a dance leader in his community, he faced challenges living in the small town of Kitgum. “I couldn’t support myself,” he said. “I couldn’t get 500 shillings in a day to buy myself any food.”

Oryema began searching for opportunities elsewhere. He went to Gulu for his first dance performance event, which was an outreach on malaria sensitization.

“It was a challenge when I was asked, ‘Can you do something that talks about malaria [through dance],’” Oryema said.

As he performed, people from Gulu noticed how good Oryema was. They began giving him more opportunities to host community dance workshops. The Gulu community began calling him “Kwena,” which means “message” in the northern Ugandan dialect of Acholi. When Oryema asked an audience member why they call him Kwena, “the woman said, ‘Because when you are dancing, we get the message. You are the message; you carry it within you,’” Oryema explained. Since then, everyone in the community calls him Kwena or Message.

The founders of Watwero Dance Company, Ojom Martin (left) and Geoffrey Oryema (right) have been dancing together since childhood. They teach dance everyday to the youth in their community.

In 2016, Oryema co-founded a community outreach organization called the Inspire Me Africa Initiative, where he would choreograph, teach and perform dance pieces in communities across northern Uganda. The organization presented dances that targeted the everyday challenges Ugandan youth face, such as malaria, early marriage, domestic violence and drug abuse. The organization was volunteer-based; they often visited local schools, hospitals and refugee camps to perform for the youth without compensation. “As much as we want to do things for free, we need to at least feed ourselves, maintain our health,” Oryema said.

Oryema began to dream about having his own dance company and saw it as an employment opportunity. In 2017, his childhood friend, Ojom, also a dancer from Kitgum, came to Gulu for the same reasons: to dance and make a living. “We want to live a life where you can always afford to pay rent and have a family. If dance can pay for all this, then it will be the best thing for us,” Ojom said.

“If one day I can at least be able to have land and feed myself daily, that would be the best thing I could ever have,” Oryema added. “It might sound crazy to many, but that has been my challenge.”

Ojom also said dance has changed his life. “I lost both of my parents; I lost my dad when I was seven years old and my mom in 2007,” he said. “My brother was the first one who began to dance. He stopped, but I continued. He was my inspiration, and now I inspire him.”

According to Oryema, they both realized they had been running away from challenges since childhood. “A lot of our youth and people in our community have these same challenges today. Why don’t we take a stand and face our challenges?” Oryema asked.

Together, they created Watwero Dance Company, which is the first of its kind in northern Uganda. Watwero is an Acholi name that translates to “We Can.”

“We have seen a lot of people dance, make money, travel. We looked at ourselves and thought, yes we can do this,” Ojom said. The name of the company is in the Acholi dialect because “we must start with our people first,” Oryema explained. “They need to understand that they can [do it]. Then, it will be easier for them to understand the reasons why we are running this company.”

Both Oryema and Ojom are artistic directors and choreographers who teach a wide variety of dance styles, such as the traditional African dances called Zulu, Gwara Gwara, Bakisimba and Durban Bhenga. They also teach afro-house, urban styles and contemporary.

This year, Watwero Dance Company participated at the Bayimba International Festival of the Arts, Krump UG and the Nyege Nyege Festival. They also featured a dance at the Kampala National Theatre. Oryema and Ojom won one of the battles at the Krump UG competition.

“We always had that sensitivity — a bond within us that we always wanted to share,” Ojom said. “Whenever we are together, we have that creativity to make art.”

“I feel that art is a universal language with which you can choose what you want to do and freely express yourself—it doesn’t cost you a thing to learn. All you need is your time and commitment,” said Oryema.

Their focus is to offer an educative platform where they use dance to express the challenges faced in their communities in northern Uganda.

“Everywhere you go, they talk about youth unemployment, drug abuse, early marriage — but nothing is being done about it. We realized that if we create a company, it will be a platform, a more organized form of art where we can work on our challenges,” Oryema said. According to Ojom, it has been difficult for their company to grow because of the community’s lack of support for the arts. Nonetheless, they refuse to give up on their dream to live a life through dance.

As long as you are still alive, it’s not over yet. Giving up should not be something that a living human being should accept,” Oryema said. “You might try hard, but if you don’t win, it’s not a loss. If you don’t win, you learn. So next time you do it better and you don’t get to lose again,” he said.  

Both Oryema and Ojom remain hopeful that they will be changing lives through dance, just as dance has changed theirs. “Dance saved me from the other part of me that has been in the war zone,” Oryema said. “I fought in the war, I’ve killed a number of people. But that was not what I wanted. When I got back home [from the war], I tried to commit suicide twice. But after failing, I realized that there is a reason why I am still breathing now.”

“Everytime I perform, people say that I’m doing something great,” said Oryema. “I don’t know if that’s the reason why I am still alive, but as long as I live, I will be fighting hard to find out.”


Student Life

The connection between language and culture

Emily Dakkak (left) alongside participants from the French conversation groups with CUSP Concordia. Feature photo courtesy of Emily Dakkak.

Concordia student turns her passion into a project as she teaches French to native Arabic speakers in Montreal

Making an effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s only simple sentences, can help people understand more about other cultures and identities. “I feel that if you could understand the essence of a culture, you would be able to understand the language as well, and vice-versa—it’s intertwined,” said Emily Dakkak, an anthropology student at Concordia University.

For a research project in her fieldwork class, Dakkak decided to explore the language, culture and integration of native Arabic speakers in Montreal. “I always had a strong interest in languages,” said Dakkak, who speaks English, French, Spanish and a bit of Arabic. “I’ve been around Arabic my whole life. I knew I wanted to study Arabic speakers in particular.”

It was a cultural immersion trip to Cadiz, Spain, in 2016 that first sparked Dakkak’s interest in how people learn new languages and adapt to new societies. “I had Spanish lessons everyday […] and then we would have cultural activities to use the Spanish we had learned that day and communicate with native Spanish speakers,” she said. “I really loved how learning [Spanish] allowed me to integrate into the culture over there […] I was curious about how that process happened.” Dakkak also developed an interest in how language is used in different cultures.

To begin her research, Dakkak contacted the Concordia University Student Parents Centre (CUSP) concerning their French conversation group courses, where student volunteers teach other students French as a second language. Dakkak approached CUSP with her research idea, and she said the timing worked out well because the centre was looking for someone to teach the French conversation groups. Dakkak sent out a newsletter in search of native Arabic speakers interested in learning French, and received responses from a couple from Egypt, as well as a woman from Libya and one from Jordan. For two months, Dakkak taught a two-hour French class twice a week, which amounted to 32 hours of teaching. During this time, she observed how the students would interact and engage with the material when learning a new language, as part of her project’s fieldwork research.

According to Dakkak, the Egyptian couple were not staying in Montreal long, and learning French was not a priority for them. Nonetheless, she said they saw it as a useful tool. The participant from Jordan had only been in Montreal for a month, and wanted to learn some French before attending a photography conference in Quebec City. The Libyan woman who participated now lives in Montreal. A mother of five, she taught English in Libya and wanted to learn French.

The Egyptian couple from Emily Dakkak’s French Conversation Group courses said learning French is a useful tool.
Photo courtesy of Emily Dakkak.

“We had fun,” said Dakkak about her experience teaching the French conversation group. “I made [the lessons] light-hearted. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to also have an emotional connection with those people; that was really important to me.”

During the classes, Dakkak learned about different perspectives of language and culture from her students. The Egyptian man explained to Dakkak how, in Egypt, everything is heart over mind; everything has to do with your emotions, and that translates through their language. In comparison, when Dakkak was in Cadiz, the language and way of life was very relaxed. “[Their pronunciation] is more relaxed, and they don’t put as much effort with their bodies to make sounds,” she said. “They are more laid back; they spend time by the beach, and I think you can find that in the language as well.”

During her research, Dakkak came across the theory of linguistic relativity, which explains how language can be experienced differently through a specific culture. “No matter what culture you come from, you will have a certain way of speaking,” she explained. “Language is relative; it is not fixed.”

Although the significance of language within a culture is important, “I don’t think it’s everything, and this project showed me that,” Dakkak said. Occasionally, she has a hard time fitting in with her own Egyptian heritage because she only speaks a bit of Arabic. “Even if I don’t have the language, I still feel very strongly about my Arab culture but just with a different language,” Dakkak explained.

During the conversation group lessons, Dakkak would try to speak to her participants in Arabic. “They really appreciated it, and they would help me pronounce words better—I think it’s a way to bond with others,” she said.

Dakkak also observed how learning a language doesn’t necessarily integrate people into a new culture. “It’s not set in stone that, just because you are learning French, you will integrate. It can be very difficult, and it’s not the same experience for everyone,” she said.

Dakkak said she believes it’s important to let someone try to speak the language. “A lot of the native Arabic speakers told me it’s hard to go out in public and try because people don’t have the patience,” she said. “It’s a very fast-paced society; people don’t really want to let them try, so it can become a vicious circle of them not being able to practice, which hinders their development of being able to speak French.”

Dakkak wants to continue her research by digging deeper into how the emotional side of Arab culture affects the way Egyptians integrate into Montreal society.“It’s so important to understand that people are all different; they come from different backgrounds,” Dakkak said. “If someone is trying hard enough to actually learn [the language], we need to respect that.”

Student Life

Voices from the African-Canadian community

From left: Bliss Morgan, Maurice Ngwakum-Akisa, Raphael Nzirubusa, Layial El-Hadi, Charles Onu and Moses Gashirabake. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

African Students’ Association and CEED Concordia welcome influential leaders in African development

For the first time, the African Students’ Association of Concordia (ASAC) teamed up with non-profit organization CEED Concordia to present “Roots: Growth on the African Continent” on March 23. The conference featured four speakers from different African countries, who shared anecdotes and experiences about their identities and the responsibility they feel to give back to their countries of origin. The panelists spoke about their career paths and the development they have seen in Africa over the past few years, as well as how they have contributed to that growth through various projects. The moderator, Maurice Ngwakum-Akisa, emphasized the importance of connecting with the audience during the panel. “We wanted to find a way for everyone to feel that they learned something and to feel inspired to learn more,” he said.


Layial El-Hadi was the first panelist to introduce herself. She works as an assistant professor and program director for the graduate certificate in innovation, technology and society at Concordia. It was important for El-Hadi to discuss her grandparents’ and parents’ journeys before she shared her own. Her grandparents had the opportunity to study abroad and returned to Sudan afterwards. “They were supposed to come back and teach people in Sudan what they have learned,” El-Hadi explained. However, circumstances were different for her parents’ generation. El-Hadi’s parents obtained international education as well, but quickly realized the opportunities for their children in Sudan were scarce.

El-Hadi moved to Canada at a young age, and identifies as Sudanese-Canadian. “My parents knew very clearly that they were Sudanese […] but I am Sudanese-Canadian. What that meant and what that journey meant was very difficult,” El-Hadi said. “I’ve now come to terms with the fact that I’m very equally and loyally proud of both cultures that I’m from.”

El-Hadi graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in political science and urban studies, and completed her MBA at HEC Montréal. As a Canadian who had all these opportunities, she asked herself what her role and responsibility was to Sudan. “Now that I had the opportunity to be Canadian, and with the time duration away from my country and my culture, the question is what is my role,” she told the audience. “Do I have the right to tell people there what they should or should not do?”


The next panelist was Charles Onu, an artificial intelligence (AI) researcher, software engineer and social innovator. Onu spent the first 25 years of his life in Nigeria but moved to Canada two years ago. He was born in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. “I remember feeling this need, leaving Nigeria, to learn and use my education and learning to somehow help people back there who are less fortunate than I was,” he said.

Currently, Onu is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at McGill and is a research assistant at the university. His focus is the applications of AI and machine learning on medical diagnoses. Onu is also the creator of Ubenwa, a software that uses AI, mobile technology and the sound of a newborn’s cry to diagnose birth asphyxia. Onu created this application in Nigeria, and Concordia’s District 3 Innovation Centre has helped with its development since Onu moved to Canada.

According to Onu, birth asphyxia is a global problem responsible for one million newborn deaths annually. “It is one of the top three causes of infant mortality,” he said. The reason asphyxia is such a big problem, particularly in Nigeria, is because it is difficult to diagnose. According to Onu, the equipment and procedures required to make a diagnosis are expensive and require medical expertise. This causes a lot of undiagnosed and untreated cases. “There needs to be access to treatment for everybody; but in many communities, they have no doctors, they have no hospitals and the roads are so bad that travelling to the nearest clinic can result in the patient’s death,” Onu explained.

He also acknowledged an even bigger problem that has yet to be addressed. “There is a big leadership crisis in African countries,” Onu said. “Our leadership in Nigeria especially has not provided fundamental and basic human needs [such as] power, roads and water. It’s going to be extremely hard to innovate a way around these very basic needs.”


Growing up in a village in Burundi, Raphael Nzirubusa was inspired by his uncle, who was a jurist and worked for the country’s Supreme Court. Curious, Nzirubusa asked his uncle how he had earned his car and lifestyle, and his uncle answered: “I just went to school.” It was at that moment Nzirubusa decided he wanted to be like his uncle. “I wanted to go on a plane and I also wanted to come back to provide some happiness to the village,” Nzirubusa said.

According to Nzirubusa, in Burundi, there is a national exam administered in elementary schools to determine which students get to attend high school, since there are very few spaces available. “Maybe 10 per cent of graduating elementary students go to high school,” he said. Nzirubusa took the test and received the highest grade in the history of the region and ended up in one of the best high schools in the country. “You go through experiences in life that push you to work hard,” he said. “If you get a place in school, in a classroom, it’s a privilege.”

According to Nzirubusa, if you are from a village or small slum in Africa, “that triggers the will to change your life to do better, to look better, to eat better. It compels you to say, ‘I don’t want to be hungry; I want to live in a house with electricity,’” he said. Today, Nzirubusa is a founding member of the Coalition for Peace and Justice in Burundi and the executive director at J.P. Morgan. “I put an emphasis on education because I believe in it,” he said.


“I was born in Rwanda, and I ended up in Canada because of circumstances, not by choice. And I consciously decided to make the best out of it,” said Moses Gashirabake, an environmental lawyer at Fasken, an international law firm. Gashirabake left Rwanda because of the 1994 genocide and moved to Kenya where he lived as a stateless refugee for 13 years. He then moved to Canada, studied political science at Concordia University and received his two law degrees from McGill University in 2017. “I came from being a refugee to helping elect the current prime minister of Canada,” Gashirabake said. When he started his law degree at McGill, Gashirabake realized a positive change could be made in Africa. “The reason why I ended up in a law firm is because I believe that conflicts in Africa are going to end if we help economies grow,” he explained. According to Gashirabake, Africa has started to change in the last decade. “It’s because of millennials and young people who have decided to take a risk,” he said. As an environmental lawyer, Gashirabake gives African countries economic advice to help them review their mining codes and environmental laws. “I am extremely passionate about giving back to society,” he said.


Towards the end of the discussion, moderator Ngwakum-Akisa asked the panelists an important question: “How do we paint Africa in a more positive light?”  El-Hadi said the current narrative about Africa in the media is old and tired. “We are not going to put up with that type of narrative anymore,” she said. According to El-Hadi, there are no more excuses; we are the ones who must illicite the change we want to see in the world. “Create a movement, create a social system that brings light to what is happening, educate people around you.”

Student Life

Combining the power of youth, family and compassion

Student travels to Thailand as a youth leader of the first NVC Family Camp Asia

While most Concordia students probably spent their reading week relaxing at home, Monica Thom spent that time working as a youth realm leader in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For two weeks, the communications and cultural studies student held compassionate communication workshops for a group of 18 Chinese children who, along with their parents, were the first-ever NVC Family Camp Asia participants.

“The main goal, for me, was just to role model,” Thom said about being a youth realm leader. “It wasn’t to teach, it wasn’t to impose upon these kids the idea of compassionate communication. It was to offer a demonstration of something different.” The purpose of NVC (Non-Violent Communication) Family Camp, Thom explained, is to get in touch with your feelings and needs, as well as those of others, and to develop strategies to respect both. These strategies can be learned through compassionate communication. Whether you are in conflict or in harmony, there’s always a way to meet everyone’s needs without compromising the other,” she said.

Duo Duo gathering materials for table centerpieces.
“NVC strives to support children’s freedom, even if that means some risk is involved,” Thom said. “With the camp members encouraging him rather that chanting ‘be careful’ and doubting him, he became naturally cautious and extremely competent.”



















The camps are divided into realms, Thom explained. The adult realm, for example, teaches parents the methodology for compassionate communication. While the parents receive that training, the kids are busy with crafts and games that incorporate compassionate communication as part of the youth realm. “It’s not a direct teaching,” Thom said. Since the camps take place outside, she added, “it’s a more natural environment, which is supposed to encourage a more natural state of being, thinking and not being stimulated by outside forces.”

Although NVC Family Camp has been operating in North America for the past 14 years, this was its first time in Asia. The group’s longest-running camp is held in Seattle, Wash., where Thom has been attending NVC Family Camp since she was 11 years old. “The first year I went, I met a few people who have become a fundamental, core family,” said Thom, who is an international student from Chicago.

Lili, 13, reminded Monica Thom a lot of herself when she first arrived at camp. She was super shy at first, but 24 hours in, she had found the courage to be open and connect with others.

Last summer, while Thom attended the NVC Family Camp in Seattle, she formed a connection with a four-year-old named Miles. “The parents noticed the connection and playfulness between us and noticed that I love kids,” she said. Attending the Seattle camp inspired Miles’s mother, Echo Hui, to host a similar camp in Asia. That is how she became the core organizer of the first NVC Family Camp Asia, alongside her husband, Eric Gonzalez-Payne, who supported her and did a lot of the planning.

Meanwhile, summer ended and Thom started school in Montreal. Months later, she was invited by Hui to lead the youth realm for the upcoming camp in Thailand. “My initial feeling was […] this is a great opportunity for practicing something I want to do after university,” Thom said. “It’s a great work experience, and it’s a great opportunity to see the world and then reconnect with this family I fell in love with.”

Prior to her arrival in Chiang Mai, Thom had to prepare schedules and activities for the participating families. She reached out to Maren Metke, who has been running the NVC Family Camp youth realm for the past 14 years, and Johnny Colden, a long-time youth realm program coordinator who has been working in Seattle.

“Releasing Thai lanterns was probably one of the more emotional evenings for the whole camp,” Thom said. “We were all bathing in joy, awe, appreciation, dreams, sadness, love, beauty and whatever else we had to send up to the heavens.”

“The goal is to make sure everyone is included and having fun,” Thom said, so she asked for suggestions of inclusive and co-operative games for the kids and parents. Once she got to the camp, Thom realized how easy it was to plan activities. “The kids bring a lot of inspiration and ideas and requests of their own,” she said.

Thom learned a bit of Mandarin to compensate for the language barrier. While most of the parents spoke English, communicating with the kids was mainly done through sign language and lots of “goofy miming motions.”

Many of the activities Thom organized for the kids incorporated nature, by making natural floral dyes, collecting leaves, painting coconuts and murals, among other things. “We wanted the kids to have a big impact on the surrounding beauty,” Thom said. “All their artwork was put up and hung around camp, just so that the parents can see how important the kids are to the creation of a community. This is a more physical and visual way of showing it, but it’s very emotional too.”

Community painting… first the kids, then the adults.

As the youth realm leader at the camp, Thom was constantly demonstrating compassion and empathetic communication, setting an example for the kids.My goal is to [be a] role model, to be inclusive. There is no age restriction, no intellectual barriers or language barriers; everyone is included,” she said. “One of my goals was to make sure these kids had a safe place to be free.”

At the start of each day, Thom and her team would present a slideshow about the camp schedule and demonstrate the day’s activities. Then, Thom would lead a game at the morning circle to get everyone moving and interacting with one another. Later in the day, there would be communication workshops for the parents and time for the kids to do art projects, explore nature and practice parkour, among other activities.

Fabric painting quickly turned into face painting.

Although a week might not seem like much time to make friends, Thom watched three teenagers form such a strong connection at the camp that, by the end of the week, they didn’t want to leave each other. “The surrounding space is one for cultivating that type of relationship,” Thom said. “You feel loved, you feel accepted. […] It was cool to see strong bonds form so quickly.”

These friendships can make it very difficult to part ways after just one week. “You are crying because this time has been so meaningful,” Thom said. “So saying goodbye is really challenging, but you are saying goodbye with this bursting heart.”

Mahman the shyest kid in the clan and Monica Thom.

And that is exactly the purpose of NVC Family Camp Asia, Thom said. It’s about creating strong bonds and inspiring confidence. “Having everyone in tears at the end was a tribute to the success of that. That’s a little victory,” she added. “It comes down to having confidence with the power of youth, the power of family and the power of compassion.”

“Tammy was one of the shyest kids in the group,” Thom said. “A smile from her was pretty rare, but at the end of camp she was giggling with the people she trusted.”

All photos are courtesy of Monica Thom.

Student Life

Exploring perspectives on sustainability

From left: John Cole, Benjamin Brunen, Jochen Jaeger, Ariel Spanovicz and Mehrdokht Pourali. Feature photo by Sandra Hercegova.

The second annual Sustainability Across Disciplines Conference invited students to learn and participate

Concordia united professors, graduate and undergraduate students from various fields of study to discuss sustainability for the second annual Sustainability Across Disciplines Conference. The conference took place on March 8 and 9, and offered students the opportunity to present their sustainability research to an audience. At the “Landscape Ecology Perspectives on Sustainability” panel, four Concordia students presented their research theses.


The first presenter was Ariel Spanovicz, a science and environmental geography graduate who will be pursuing her master’s in environmental science at ETH Zurich University. She presented her research project on the impacts of road kill. “Road ecology is so exciting because it’s such a new field and we know so little about it, and so many people aren’t doing anything about it,” Spanovicz said. “We know about habitat fragmentation, but do we know how much the roads are impacting all of this?”

During her presentation, Spanovicz focused on mortality rates of road kill by comparing data collected from one road in Quebec with two roads in Brazil. “We combined to see the variations and to see if we can find any differences and similarities,” she explained.

According to Spanovicz, this project started when she graduated and completed her honours thesis with Jochen Jaeger, an associate professor and the graduate program director of the geography, planning and environment program. Jaeger offered Spanovicz the opportunity to work with road kill data from roads in Quebec, and Spanovicz decided to embark on this research journey. “It started off as a very small project. We were just going to do a hot-spot analysis with this data. [The project] just grew and grew, and now it’s been over a year,” Spanovicz said. She has been working alongside Jaeger and Fernanda Zimmermann Teixeira, who lives in Brazil. Zimmermann Teixeira had road kill data from two roads in Brazil and came to Montreal to meet Spanovicz for this project. Spanovicz said she wants to find a way to work with nature—not against it. “If anyone is going to fight, it’s going to be me because I care,” she said. “I think we’ve had some really positive outlooks, just even in the past decade or so.”


Benjamin Brunen followed with his thesis on landscape ecology. He focused on analyzing the effects of a high-traffic highway on wildlife movement in proposed ecological corridors. Brunen is a master’s student in science and geography. According to him, human infrastructure is rapidly expanding, therefore it’s even more important to preserve natural habitats. “I really care about the environment and nature,” Brunen said. “I like helping [nature and animals] to not be as negatively impacted by human activity. […] There are ways to mitigate the negative effects.”

During his presentation, Brunen touched upon the effects of roads on wildlife, habitat fragmentation and the subsequent decrease in animal movement, local extinction and genetic loss. He also presented mitigation measures, such as wildlife passages and exclusion fencing.

“My journey is going to be living in my lab and doing field work constantly for the next year,” Brunen said. “I’m really looking forward to that; working in science is just exciting. The work is always worth it, and in my case, it might actually help out.”


Next, John Cole presented his thesis proposal on the past, present and future land use in the Adirondacks. According to Cole, there has not yet been research or work published on the Adirondack and Laurentian areas. Therefore, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has funded Cole for two years to do analysis in the area.

“It’s a really exciting time for conservation in the Montreal area because the Quebec government is supporting work on connectivity,” he said. “They all understand that it is vital to preserve large, intact and resilient ecosystems to combat climate change to create a sustainable future.”

In Cole’s presentation, he divided the research behind his thesis into three chapters. The first chapter compared the past and present by looking back 40 years to see how the landscape has changed because of human development. In the second chapter, Cole discussed the present and future. “I am examining the effects of continued development of the landscape 20 to 40 years in the future,” he explained. The last chapter focused on proactive road mitigation measures for the present and future. “I will look more closely at the road network as a barrier to animal movement and a high mortality risk,” Cole said.


Another student in geography and environmental studies, Mehrdokht Pourali, addressed the condition of urban sprawl. Her thesis research focused on addressing the consequences and drivers of urban sprawl. According to Pourali, there is not a singular definition of urban sprawl, however, she has decided to define it in a basic and objective way. “It’s a diverse, low-density, low-diversity development which is ultimately unsustainable at the expense of high-quality agriculture land and natural areas,” Pourali explained.

She also explained how urban sprawl has detrimental effects on the environment because of increased energy consumption, increased water pollution and water consumption, reduced farmland or natural habitats, increased traffic congestion and increased cost of infrastructure.

“The loss of wildland, the loss of agricultural land to urban sprawl is not only the loss of the fresh food sources but also the loss of habitat,” Pourali said. She also discussed the causes of urban sprawl, which are mainly demographic, socio-economic, political and technological.

All the presentations showcased new knowledge concerning sustainability in our world today. According to Spanovicz, there is still hope for a sustainable future. “You have to hold on to those little hopes and little things to push you through,” she said. “It’s just a matter of giving up or not. People get involved the more they hear about this.”

Exit mobile version