Arno Kopecky, writer of The Devil's Curve, arrived in Calgary in October of 2012 to speak on behalf of the subject matter in his new book: the impact of Canadian oil business in the Amazon. The meat of the book lies in the 2009 crisis in Bagua, where Peruvian police officers opened live ammunition on a peaceful protest by Awajun Indigenous people demonstrating against extractive resource industry on their land.
The week of the crisis, I was in Peru, only a few miles away, in the city of Cajamarca.
As I watched on television, preparing for my flight back to Canada, my personal friend, Arno Kopecky was on his way to Peru to take a closer look. I began following Arno's coverage while I was engaged in an extensive research trip in Cairo, Egypt, where I would often comment on his articles in The Walrus.
Later, I became further involved when an Achuar delegation arrived from Peru to protest the proposed extractive business operations of Talisman Energy, a Calgary-based oil corporation, on Achuar land.
Only weeks before Arno's arrival in Calgary to speak on behalf of his book, The Devil's Curve, the Achuar had won their fight in successfully convincing Talisman that they should not conduct an extractive industry on Achuar land.
Arno's first presentation at Mount Royal University, was paired off with Waubgeshig Rice, who I had learned of prior on Black Coffee Poet. His second presentation was at Auburn Saloon, with Andrew Nikiforuk, a colleague at the Tyee, and probably the most well-known Tar Sands whistleblower journalist. In both presentations, he was especially emphatic in his regard for the complete lack of empathy for Amazon's Indigenous peoples.
During the Achuar Campaign to protest against oil extraction on their territory, they had officially charged invading oil companies with attempted genocide.
I have great respect for Arno's work and look forward to his second book, The Oil Man and the Sea, which to paraphrase his personal communication, tries to condense the beautiful majesty of northern B.C.'s wilderness, including one of the largest unlogged forest watersheds in the world, into words.
At the "Dine for a Difference" dinner banquet at Central Grand Restaurant, CAUSEKids reached their initial goal of raising $20,000 to build a school in Sierra Leone. The organizational team had begun their fundraising efforts in February of 2012 with an art gallery auction.
CAUSEKids is a seasoned international development organization, working in various countries throughout Africa and Latin America for over twenty years. I spoke with the daughter of their founders, an outspoken advocate for their organizational merit. She recounted the importance of their sustainable network, and the crucial practice of investing in people, where skills are built from the ground up within the indigenous social network.
In accord with local community efforts, a people so motivated to receive visitors after facing a civil war which devastated the national infrastructure that they built their own road into town, Canadian volunteers are working with community leaders towards building a much needed school in a community with only one formally trained teacher, and a serious handful of children.
During the night's fundraising efforts, the organizational team was surprised by how much they raised. At many points in the night, the restaurant staff even pulled out hundred dollar bills to contribute. The Honorable Teresa Woo-Paw, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta spoke to confirm her support and reminded everyone present that Alberta continues to offer an international development granting fund.
The incredible story behind the night and the groundswell of active awareness in Calgary began with a community activism campaign from Calgary Young Offenders Center. There, incarcerated youth were inspired to help the suffering of children in Sierra Leone. Later, CAUSEKids teamed up with their efforts to collaborate in achieving their collective goals. Currently, there are only $5,000 left to raise, for the children do need a furnished school. This is one example of real civil society pressure to make real change in the march towards global citizenry.
On the evening of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, a group of concerned citizens from civil society, including affiliates of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary and other actively engaged members of the research and education community dedicated to peace and social justice, convened at The AREA in Inglewood, Calgary.
The evening began with a heartfelt opening, on request by host Kelly Dowdell, for Dr. Arthur Clark, founding member of the Parhad Programmes, to lead a remembrance for the late Dr. Irma M. Parhad, whose memory and life has inspired the community into its second decade of international peace work.
Dr. Irma M. Parhad, besides being the wife of Dr. Clark, was a resilient research scientist and medical doctor, whose passion for research in the areas of human well-being have had such a lasting impact in the world that, as Dr. Clark reminded us, make you truly realize the value of a human life. As he went on, speaking from the heart, he confirmed the notion that when someone like that dies, a part of the world goes dark forever. The Parhad Research students are handpicked to relight the world.
Beginning with two back-to-back presentations on sex-trafficking in Cambodia, students Sarah Joy Herzog and Jenlen Leonard concurred on the astounding levels of poverty and corruption in Cambodian society. Simply, there is not adequate employment, coupled with a "perfect storm" as Leonard put it, of intergenerational gaps due to a legacy of genocide and war, and rigid gender roles.
When international pressure mounts, Cambodian judicial pressure discourages all individuals and organizations from continuing their activities, putting all foreign nationals at great legal risk. Equally, the sex trade submerges underground with punctual misdirection, servicing the mostly local Cambodian male client. As one vocal audience member erupted, "sex sells."
Next, James Nguen, a man with an incredible reputation, and a subject of international peace efforts himself, was a sponsored refugee while a Lost Boy of South Sudan. Nguen has recently achieved academic success as a university graduate. Together with his own organizational development and a Parhad research grant, he has continued efforts to install potable water access in South Sudan.
As a country still recovering from one the longest civil war in African history, South Sudan is marred by extreme poverty, including lack of access to basic amenities such as clean water. Nguen closed his presentation by emphasizing the need for education as the most effective recommendation in achieving long-term success in rising out of poverty on a national level.
The final presentation was extremely compelling. Student researcher Marina McLellan captivated with her charged ethnographic insights into the world of Uzbek and Krygyz rivalries in Kyrgyzstan, a little-known post-Soviet country bordering western China. Her research was dense and clear, and her eloquence was uniquely conveyed with an especially inviting balance of scientific inquiry and personal anecdote.
She humanized a relatively unknown society, emphasizing the role of women in peacebuilding, honoring the tragic strength of every modern woman's struggle to find a place in today's world, shedding light on marginality within marginality with the expressive intelligence of a keen observer and heartened listener.
As a previous Parhad researcher, having completed my placement in 2010, I was touched by the bright continuity which shaped the evening from both the audience and the presenters. I felt honoured to be a part of the community.
The AREA has hosted many events related to local sustainability in a variety of means. If Think Global, Act Local is a worthy mantra in Canadian society, the 10th Annual Parhad Research Symposium became a true reflection of thinking globally, as the very first step towards effective global citizenry in our every locality.