The University of Alberta’s 31st-annual International Week (I-Week) is about to kick off in Edmonton, offering 50 free educational events on the global community’s most pressing issues: poverty, gender equality, the refugee crises and climate change. The theme of this year’s International Week, “For a Better World,” focuses on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—17 ambitious points that were drafted and agreed upon by civil-society organizations and 139 UN member states in September 2015. The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had framed international policies from 2000 to 2015, and will guide the policies and agendas of world leaders and governments for the next 15 years. The goals focus on ending poverty and hunger, promoting health, education, achieving social equalities, ensuring sustainable consumption and combatting climate change.
Nancy Hannemann, director of I-Week, along with her organizing team, is excited to engage Edmontonians on the importance of the SDGs and how they relate to negotiating and solving complex problems in Canada and around the world.
“The SDGs are universal,” Hannemann says. “They aren’t only aimed at developing countries, which the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did. Rather, they’re striving to end poverty everywhere, including in Canada. We hope by exposing Edmontonians to the SDGs, they can also learn about solutions to issues.”
Dr Stephen Lewis, co-founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and co-director of AIDS-Free World, will be this year’s keynote speaker (on January 29). As a renowned Canadian humanitarian, Dr Lewis will draw from his history of working in international policy, and at the grassroots level in Sub-Saharan Africa, to reflect on how Canada can take a leading role in translating the SDGs into reality.
“One of the issues Dr Lewis is concerned with is gender equality,” Hannemann says. “He’ll talk about how women, from policy to the grassroots, are changing their own realities. Gender equity plays an important part of the SDGs.”
Diversity and gender equality were also important to this year’s I-Week organizers. Hannemann and her team took great care to invite a diverse range of academics, community organizers, activists and international students to speak at I-Week. They hope to connect Edmontonians with voices that aren’t often heard in the media, or receive the attention their work deserves.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of those voices. She’s a Canadian Inuit activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and author of a recent memoir, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet. For over 15 years, Watt-Cloutier has been a leading voice for indigenous communities, speaking out against unchecked greenhouse-gas emissions and how climate change violates the rights of Inuit First Nations. From 2002 to 2006, Watt-Cloutier served as the International Chair on the Inuit Circumpolar Council, an organizing body that represents the interests of Inuit communities in Russia, Greenland, Alaska and Canada.
“The conditions of the ice aren’t what they used to be,” Watt-Cloutier says. “The hunters and elders have difficulty reading the ice; it makes it harder to pass down traditional knowledge. The melting of the ice isn’t only threatening food security, but it’s creating issues of human safety. We’re living on thin ice.”
Last year, she was recognized with the Right Livelihood Award, which is dubbed the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize.” In December 2015, Watt-Cloutier spoke at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, putting a human face on climate change in the north. Watt-Cloutier will speak at I-Week on Wednesday, January 27, sharing stories of the Inuit and their struggle to protect their northern climate and cultural ways of life.
I-Week will also provide an opportunity to hear different perspectives from local experts about Canada’s role in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. Five experts, including academics, immigration specialists and community organizers, will come together on Thursday, January 28 for a panel discussion on Canada’s support for the multinational coalition combatting ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the effectiveness of their response. The panel will also discuss how Canadians can counter a culture of fear surrounding refugees and assist with refugee resettlement.
Last year, seven-thousand people came out to participate in I-Week events at the U of A campus. This year, Hannemann and her team are hopeful to draw the same enthusiasm from students, staff, faculty and the community at large.
“We’re trying to provide a forum for people to learn more about global issues, along with discussing what some of the solutions are,” Hannemann explains. “It’s a way for Edmontonians and the campus community to come together and have access to what they might not otherwise experience in their day-to-day lives.”
Beyond the attraction of the more recognized keynote speakers, Hannemann urges the community to attend the smaller events as well. She says that the smaller workshops and discussions often provide greater opportunity to speak with the presenters and participate in deeper dialogue on global topics.
Last year, Ranya El-Sharkawi, a second-year political science student at the U of A, attended I-Week for the first time and felt the real value of converging across different faculties on global topics. She describes the experience as “invaluable” to her education.
“We don’t often have the opportunity to discuss [in the classroom] the issues that interest us, or to come together across different faculties,” says El-Sharkawi, who was inspired to volunteer as the co-chair for the U of A’s Canadian Red Cross Club on campus after attending a previous I-Week.
This year, she’s one of the organizers behind two interactive workshops at I-Week, including an event called Their Shoes Are Your Shoes: A Refugee Camp Simulation. Hosted at the Telus Atrium on January 29 from 4 pm to 5:30 pm, the simulation will provide an opportunity for people to “walk through an International Red Cross refugee camp” and learn first-hand about the issues refugees face.
The Canadian Red Cross Club is also hosting a second interactive event on January 27 called “Paxium”—a role-playing game that simulates what it would be like to live in a war or conflict-zone.
“Many people can learn best through interactive experiences,” El-Sharkawi says.
Before I-Week wraps up on January 31, organizers are hosting a celebratory benefit concert and fundraiser called Music for a Better World at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. The concert is open to the community and will feature musicians from the Middle East. Funds raised will go to support the Syrian Refugee Relief Fund at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
“It’s going to be an exciting way to conclude another I-Week in Edmonton,” Hannemann says. “It’s a free concert—we ask people to donate what they can—and it’s an opportunity to listen to music from Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and many other countries.”
Mon, Jan 25 – Sun, Jan 31
U of A campus, various venues