May 13, 2019
By Juan Camilo Suárez Colmenares
Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Ottawa along with nine young adults to participate in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank/World Renew’s 2019 Justice Leadership Trip. This is an opportunity for young adults who have already finished their studies or are close to graduation, to meet decision-makers in Parliament, become acquainted with Parliamentary procedure and government relations, and discuss important global issues. As a recent graduate of International Development and an intern at The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, this was all I could ask for in terms of gaining experience to pursue a career in the field.
Our first day we were briefed in gender equality and food security, Canadian Foodgrains Bank 101, Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the use of social media as a tool for public engagement. Then we shifted our focus to the I Care campaign, one of the central reasons we had come to Ottawa.
The I Care campaign was developed by the Foodgrains Bank to advocate for increasing the federal government’s investment in ending global poverty and hunger. Although Canada has historically contributed to changing people’s lives around the world, the aid – as a percentage of national income – is declining.
In 2017 for example, Canada contributed 0.26% of its Gross National Income to ODA, whereas similar countries contributed 0.52%. The accepted global target is 0.7% of the GNI.
We wrapped up the day with a diverse panel discussion on addressing gender inequality and global hunger with an officer from Global Affairs Canada, a professor of the International Development Program at the University of Ottawa and a researcher and development consultant who shared her experiences of community development in Kenya.
On Day 2, we were split into groups of three. Our task was to meet with MPs and government officials and ask them to increase the financial commitment to aid. Then we would all go to the House of Commons to be first-hand observers of Question Period.
As we expected, our meetings with MPs or their staff were brief, but each came with important lessons. MPs were kind, receptive and some of them even committed to our final goal, which was to write a letter to the Prime Minister expressing the importance of committing more funds towards ODA.
An important lesson from this experience is that advocacy is fundamental for achieving the changes you wish to see in society. Despite the busy agendas of MPs (some of our meetings were cancelled as MPs got called for a vote, or meetings were short as they had to face the flooding emergency in Northern Ontario and Québec), an important part of their job is to listen to their constituencies and act on people’s concerns. Engaging with elected officials and expressing to them the values and topics you care about is the first step to seeing a shift in the political agenda and the only way to maintain a healthy democratic government.
One of the main takeaways from the Justice Leadership Trip was feeling empowered and full of knowledge to assume my position as the I Care Campaign Coordinator at PWRDF and give a good closure to the campaign. These spaces are great to make new friends, and meet like-minded people who share the same interests and concerns on decreasing poverty and working towards achieving a more just world.