By Michael LeBlanc, Animator for Saskatchewan and Keewatin-Le Pas
What makes Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada unique?
This was the question that Asia programs officer Micheline (Mika) Lévesque asked at our Saskatchewan regional assembly on Friday, May 5, 2023. I found the question very striking as our members from across the Saskatchewan and Keewatin-Le Pas region gathered in Saskatoon in person for the first time in almost four years.
The questions that had haunted us during the pandemic―about how to keep everyone, but especially our older members, safe; whether there would be another lockdown; whether things would get worse―all melted away the minute I saw our first members trickle into our meeting space, fired up my laptop and projector, and watched Vice-president Tashia Toupin begin our land acknowledgment. We were there to experience the community and solidarity of a regional assembly; to reaffirm our mission as a community; and to rediscover our organization’s unique charism in development work.
Prayer and inspiration
It having been Red Dress Day, we started with a prayer crafted by the KAIROS network for the Creator Spirit to watch over missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. It was our way to honour their memory and pledge to dismantle the colonial structures which had harmed them.
Then, I went to work on my only task for the weekend: making sure our meeting was accessible to our Zoom audience of members from around the province and, most importantly, to Levesque, our keynote speaker from Montreal.
She began by sharing her passion for social justice, recounting her decades of experience in development projects, particularly in Southeast Asia. Lévesque also outlined what we mean by development, particularly sustainable development.
Our projects around the world involve enthusiastic and engaged partners who are committed to empowering people to stand against the dictatorship of profit, which is orientated to making a small minority the most money as fast as possible. This system of oppression, sometimes also perversely promoted as “development,” is the force that creates poverty around the world. Lévesque outlined how we work in Canada and the Global South to dismantle these profit-governed systems of oppression.
Lévesque told many stories about her work on the ground, and the characters emerged lifelike and robust. There was a woman who became a farming leader; she proudly raised her chickens and shared her knowledge with her community. There was a co-op formed by Cambodian peasant farmers that created a sustainable water management system to not only share water between eight or nine farming families but also to grow three crops of rice a year, a feat no one had accomplished before. And finally, we heard about a young boy who managed to create an automatic chicken-feed maker out of only spare parts. I was blown away by the ingenuity and industry of our local partners on the ground. They really are so capable and resourceful!
To answer her question about what makes us unique, Lévesque focused on the membership, the 11,000+ Canadians who make up Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada along with the thousands of others who give regularly and support the mission.
She told a story about the first December after she started working with us. Seeing a pile of envelopes on the receptionists’ desk, she asked what that was. The receptionist told her, “Those are donations from everyday Canadians.” When she saw the contents, Lévesque was deeply moved: $20 from Toronto, $200 from B.C., etc. She said that the value of these donations exceeded their dollar amounts. “Let’s say the Canadian government gave me [a grant for a project]. The value would not be the same as having all these people, all these Canadians giving 15, 20, 100, 1,000 dollars. To me, that’s really the magic of Development and Peace, and you are the heart of that.”
As our regional assembly continued over the weekend, Lévesque’s words reverberated through each of our sessions! It was truly a keynote address that struck a chord with our gathered membership. I wish my sisters and brothers across Canada the very best as they all gather for their regional assemblies (find your local one here). We truly have much to celebrate as a movement of members.