“Peace has to start with someone”: Reflections from the MCC Ottawa Office Student Seminar

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

 Human Rights and Global Migration" written in black inkFrom February 14 – 16, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ottawa Office hosted its annual Student Seminar. College and university students from across Canada gathered in Ottawa to learn about this year’s topic “People on the move: Human rights and global migration.” Session topics included faith-based advocacy, the impact of migration on Canada’s Indigenous people, and the root causes of global migration.

Jonathan Klassen, a Conrad Grebel University College (Grebel) student, attended the seminar, and had the opportunity to hear from Parliamentarians and civil society advocates, as well as share in open and engaging dialogue with other students attending the seminar. “The seminar gave us a perspective of the realities people face when they are forced to flee their homes and attempt to migrate to countries like Canada,” Jonathan explained. “Talking to people who were former refugees themselves made these issues seem more relevant to me because these were people that could be my neighbours, they weren’t just news stories anymore.”

Throughout the seminar, students learned about MCC’s work concerning migration, both in Canada and abroad. MCC works in Canada to support refugees and resettlement efforts. In conflicted areas around the world, MCC carries out relief and peacemaking work. MCC also does advocacy work regarding migration with government and non-government organizations. “Learning about the work MCC does allowed me to see that there was tangible work being done to help with these issues, both preventative, root-cause work and relief and support work, which was inspiring,” Jonathan noted.

As a student in the residence program at Grebel, Jonathan had the opportunity to learn from and connect with students from a variety of backgrounds and university programs. The diverse nature of the programs taken by students living in the Grebel residence makes Grebel a natural incubator of thoughts and conversations about a broad range of important topics. In the same way, MCC strives to expose students to global events and give them a chance to learn about and engage with those events through Student Seminars. Informed engagement encourages the challenging of preconceived notions.  

“I didn’t have a whole lot of knowledge or passion for the issues of human rights and global migration before the seminar,” Jonathan explained. “I didn’t think any of it affected me very much.” But through participating in a “forced-to-flee” simulation exercise, hearing from former refugees, and sessions with various people working in the human rights and global migration field, Jonathan realized the importance of learning about migration and participating in the journeys of migrating people. “It doesn’t matter where you’re born, what your culture is, or what your status is – we are all human beings. We have to be peaceful with one another, we have to be welcoming and compassionate whether we’re a 'host' or 'being hosted'. Peace has to start with someone.”

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