From the Arctic Circle to African Villages – broadening our narratives!

Danielle      audrey

I have read fascinating comments this week by  two young women working and learning in very different parts of the world.  As you can see by the photos above, both Danielle Johnston, an intern on a Women and Change project in Zambia and Audrey Martin, a recently graduated nurse working in the arctic town of Kuujjuaq, are thriving as they leap into and  embrace their new situations  🙂

Despite their different landscapes,  there were some common threads to their reflections about community, resilience and the fact there is never a single story that captures the layered realities of a culture.  It seems that the more we can continue to look and listen and learn from the people around us – wherever that may be – the more we discover the complexities and nuances.

Danielle’s recent blog post,  “Children are Starving in Africa”   explores the fact that Western Media focusses so much on the negative, sad aspects of Africa while she experiences a culture rich in generosity, vibrant traditions and a sense of fun and warmth that is sometimes lacking in our colder climates.  Click on the hilarious and provocative video link she provides that deconstructs some our aid notions when African consider sending Radiators to the poor, freezing Norwegians:   and read her blog for more insights about living, working and learning in Zambia:

The first stories I heard from Africa were ones of warm welcomes, generosity and community, and those were the images I saw, offset by beautiful tribal ceremonies, majestic animals and breathtaking landscapes. Then, I went on to study community development and the case studies I read about were about amazing projects that were focused on the assets within each country and how they could be used to improve livelihoods. As a result, the Africa in my mind has never just been what I see in the media. Yet for many people in the Global North, what we see portrayed in the media is all they will ever know of Africa. And the Africa that is most common in most major media is the face of starving children, families torn apart by war, people suffering from diseases that are curable, and millions huddled into cramped camps.

zambia img_5871   Danielleopra

Similarly, Audrey spoke of the many health problems facing the Inuit whose traditional culture has been heavily impacted over the last few decades.  When I asked her for a Northern recipe for this Dinner Club blog, she said she would try to find something, but that some of the meals,  such as eating raw seal meat, might not be accessible in the southern parts of Canada.

Despite some of the problems the Inuit have faced, Audrey is also impressed with the strong sense of belonging in the village:

The Inuit  have a  great sense of community and helping each other out.  A lot of babies from teens are adopted by the grand parents.  Multi-generational houses are common.   They  also have amazing hunting support –  all Inuit share the meat they catch.   They also love going camping with their   family..  . . . . . .Somehow there’s a lot of caring and sharing, even if they don’t have the ressources we have around Montreal.

audreykuujjuaqaudreyfish  audreyinukshuk

Both Danielle and Audrey challenge us to keep exploring our world and our preconceptions.  Watch this Ted Talk for more inspiration from a brilliant Nigerian writer on how to uncover our cultural stereo-types and practice seeing the world’s rich, layered narratives:

Similarly, this fun You-tube pokes fun at what these feisty Kenyan women call “poverty porn:”

In a more local context, how can you engage in dialogues that broaden your world?  How might you limit yourself to a “single story” about yourself or others?  Are there ways to talk to people that are outside your own circle of like minded folks to try and get a deeper sense of their reality?

Juanita Brown, founder and author of World Cafes says that:

“Since our earliest ancestors gathered in circles around the warmth of a fire, conversation has been our primary means for discovering what we care about, sharing knowledge, imagining the future, and acting together to both survive and thrive.” 

What conversations can you have that build new understandings and new community connections?

Thanks Danielle and Audrey for sharing your insights!


One response to “From the Arctic Circle to African Villages – broadening our narratives!

  1. I’d love to see more formal opportunities for students to join together and talk about cross cultural connections. I wonder if our International Department has any ideas. Also next week our Aboriginal Services and MIR Centre for Peace have a special guest arriving. I hope some students will attend. Its a fantastic opportunity to learn from a world-renowned scholar and meet many equally wise community participants!

    Dr. Shawn Wilson is Opaskwayak Cree from northern Manitoba who now works internationally helping people understand indigenous ways of thinking and knowing.

    Selkirk College is one of the lucky organizations that will host Dr. Wilson on his most recent tour back to his homeland!

    There are several ways for staff to benefit from Dr. Wilson’s visit:

    Community Dinner with Dr. Shawn Wilson
    MIR Lecture: Transformative Justice – Why Research is Important For Aboriginal Communities
    Workshop on Indigenous Research
    If you have questions about Shawn’s visit, please be in touch with either Jessica Morin or Theresa Southam or visit Conducting Research in Aboriginal Communities.


    Theresa Southam

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