The Social Connectedness Fellowship Program provides recent undergraduates with the opportunity to carry out research, writing, analysis, and outreach in thematic areas related to social isolation and connectedness in the context of community building and international development. The program is intended to provide young people with key professional skills and experience in policy, program, and partnership development to carry forward in their future studies and careers.
Each Fellow co-curates their Fellowship experience together with Professor Kim Samuel and team members from The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness and core partner TakingITGlobal. Fellows begin by developing a work plan in their chosen area of focus with the goal of identifying pathways to overcoming social isolation and building social connectedness. They then produce a variety of written works, from analytical reports to blog articles (see below).
A key goal of the Fellowship Program is to build a supportive community among Fellows themselves and to create opportunities for them to learn from one another. To that end, Fellows meet weekly via video conference to share updates, challenges and best practices. Another key aspect of the program is outreach. Fellows are encouraged to identify relevant stakeholders and actors associated with their focus areas and to gain experience conducting primary research. They are also given opportunities to connect with a variety of partners in the social connectedness movement to consult their expertise and expand their professional networks. Examples include Human Rights Watch, Special Olympics, The Stop Community Food Centre, Jubilee Sailing Trust, and Synergos, among others.
WORK BY SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS FELLOWS
Ana Sofia grew up in Lima, Peru. She recently completed a degree in international development, with a double minor in communication studies and general management, at McGill University. She is passionate about human rights, storytelling, and the intersection of the two. In 2018, she is spending time in southeastern Mexico, exploring the challenges faced by refugees, asylum-seekers, and forced migrants fleeing Central America.
This paper explores the policies and programs that foster or reduce social connectedness among refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Montreal. For these individuals, resettlement is not the end of the journey. They must adapt to their new environments, rebuild lives, navigate settlement services, and look forward, all while coming to terms with the lives they left behind. While social connectedness and resilience-building are accomplished by people and communities, collaborative and complementary networks of institutions are fundamental in order to create the right conditions for positive exchanges to take place. Recommendations for donors, and federal, provincial and municipal decision-makers include defining the resettlement and integration responsibilities of each level of government, in cooperation with relevant stakeholders and suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.
After observing the impacts of education inequity in both Vietnam and Canada, Celine developed a passion for youth empowerment and education reform. She holds a BA in international development studies from McGill University and is currently Research Analyst with The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness. In the future, Celine plans to work in multiple sectors to build bridges between communities and individuals, with a particular focus on Indigenous youth education and wellbeing.
This paper explores the development of mental health policies and programs within Canada in relation to youth, and examines the mental health climate at McGill University from a policy perspective. The topic of mental health has become a pressing concern for all post-secondary institutions and has brought to light the failures of universities to create inclusive and supportive environments for students. The results from interviews and online research have shown that McGill still faces many obstacles: the remodelling of Counselling and Mental Health Services, the disconnect and lack of coordination between mental health resources, the limited scope of promotion and outreach to students regarding mental health, the vulnerability and isolation of specific groups of students, and an overall triggering school environment. Recommendations include promoting mental health literacy, and greater concerted action and resource coordination.
Elena is a graduate of McGill University with a degree in agricultural and environmental international development studies. Her interests lie in the intersection of food, community, and health, and she hopes to continue her studies in these fields. She currently works at a start-up in her hometown of Boston, MA, where she is pursuing her love of all things food-related.
This paper explores the negative impacts of food insecurity and identifies the successes and failures of relief efforts that are currently being made in the United States. Food insecurity, defined by the USDA as a state when “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money or other resources”, is a pervasive problem in the United States. Millions of individuals do not have regular access to healthy, affordable foods, and many go hungry or face serious health repercussions as a result. Case studies of successful and innovative food aid programming in Boston, Massachusetts are examined and observations of efficacy identified. The results of the research conducted in this paper provided evidence for implementing effective food programs nationally. Program recommendations made in this report based on research findings include integration of food aid into existing infrastructures as well as prioritizing dignity and autonomy in such programs.
Local Arts Initiatives and Social Connectedness in Canada
By Jedidah Nabwangu
Jedidah graduated from McGill University in 2017 with a major in international development and a double minor in theatre and political science. She learned some of her most important life skills and lessons as part of the social connectedness movement, and for that, she is very thankful. Jedidah resides in Toronto where she is trying her best to merge her passion for theatre/film with that of social justice and human rights.
This paper aims to establish the significance of the arts in community building as exemplified by the non-profit sector in Canada. It explores the powerful role that local artistic non-profit organizations (specifically theatre groups and companies) play in building social connectedness at the community level. While there have indeed been efforts by the Liberal Government to increase funding for social arts and cultural programs in Canada, issues remain. For example, the misallocation of resources, both regionally and hierarchically, has proven detrimental to the survival and/or general practice of some organizations. The paper explores 5 case studies involving different local theatre groups in Montreal and Ottawa, which reveal the value of the arts in Canadian communities as a key remedy to social isolation. In the case of theatre, this value can reflect various forms from providing an intersectional take on theatre and social justice, to student-run societies on campuses that simultaneously act as therapeutic release to students.
Karina is a first-year law student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. In 2017, she completed her Fellowship with The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness after graduating from McGill University with a bachelor’s degree in international development.
This paper examines various technologies that counteract and prevent social isolation amongst older adults, with a focus on B.C.’s growing elderly population. Technology can reduce social isolation and enhance connectedness by increasing communication and connectivity between friends, family, and caregivers. It also allows for and embraces an intergenerational approach towards connectedness. Mobile technologies, internet and communication technologies (ICTs), and others have been shown to impact levels of social isolation. Research indicates that technologies that enhance communication decrease feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. The primary barriers older adults in B.C. face when it comes to accessing technology include poverty, lack of technological infrastructure, and lack of knowledge. The paper recommends increased access to technology for older adults, especially vulnerable segments.
Kim graduated from McGill University in 2017 with a BA in international development, after which she completed a fellowship with The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness focused on social isolation among young brides in Canada and the US. Now a project coordinator with TakingITGlobal, Kim works to engage youth across Canada, specifically in remote northern communities and in French-speaking communities.
This paper explores the causes and consequences of early and forced marriage in North America. Survivors and professionals were interviewed to gain insight into why this happens and what the impacts are for victims. Impacts are organized under three categories: health, education and finances. Current policies and programs are studied to identify gaps, including a lack of information, legislation, and isolation. Recommendations for relevant stakeholders are to invest in research on this topic; implement comprehensive education programs tailored to empower young girls; make the legal age of marriage 18 with no exceptions; increase public awareness of the issue; increase access to information and services for victims; more funding to provide services for victims; change the government approach to include more departments; and diversify members of legislative bodies.
Psychosocial Support: For Adolescents Vulnerable to HIV
By Midanna de Almada
Midanna worked as a Social Connectedness Fellow in partnership with the Synergos Institute in 2017. She is passionate about sexual and reproductive health in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in sub-groups of the population such as adolescents. She completed her bachelors degree at McGill University in December 2016 and is now undertaking a masters in global population health at the London School of Economics.
This paper aims to identify the role of third-party psychosocial support in impacting the health – emotional, social, mental and psychical – of HIV-reactive adolescents (persons aged 12 to 18) in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is done by telling ‘health narratives,’ or stories of each individual’s experience either providing (the careworkers) or receiving (the adolescents) psychosocial support. Based on findings and the use of secondary literature, the paper recommends: expanding the Isibindi Program and social connectedness to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to infection; prioritizing male empowerment and education; and involving several stakeholders and grassroots initiatives in policy creation and implementation. It concludes that social connectedness can decrease new infections by decreasing risk behaviors and empower those already infected to accept their status and manage the disease while living a fulfilling life.
Anissia graduated from McGill University with a degree in political science and international development studies. Having grown up in Kyrgyzstan, France, Hong Kong, and Thailand, she has developed a keen interest in travel and intercultural dialogue. She wishes to pursue a career in the field of sustainable development that would allow her to continue to explore her passion for human rights and environmental and social justice.
This paper argues for the importance of resilient and sustainable food systems, with a focus on metropolitan areas, particularly Montreal. In Canada, the dominant agro-food system is unstable, unsustainable, and a major contributor to global warming and food insecurity. Montreal forms an integral part of this system – both a victim and a contributor. Entrenched poverty and increasingly vulnerable minority groups, reliance on fossil fuels and food imports, high carbon emissions, inadequate infrastructure and the expansion of the built environment prevent the city from fully embracing sustainable development. Recommendations include assisting the development of urban and peri-urban agriculture by building greater collaborative networks, creating a national database on climate change and food security, and rethinking the way we understand and use this information. The paper also recommends enabling urban farming to contribute towards the local economy and investing in green energy and green infrastructure.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Emma Harries graduated from McGill University with a degree in international development, psychology, and communications. In the future, she hopes to work to increase accessibility to mental health services internationally and locally through culture-based approaches.
This paper argues for a holistic approach to treating and reducing the prevalence of mental illness beyond simply increasing access to practitioners and services. Such an approach would emphasize prevention and incorporate education, architecture, and attitudes towards food, all of which influence physical and mental well-being. Proposed solutions include redesigning education systems to facilitate more connection between students and teachers, as well as linking material between courses rather than teaching subjects in silos; constructing built environments that encourage community and foster social connectedness; and emphasizing a respect for soil and natural foods, while also making whole foods more accessible and affordable, would encourage the proliferation of diverse microbes in the human body and strengthen the immune system, thereby increasing resistance to physical and mental illness.
Inclusive Education in Montreal: Theory, Policy and Practice
By Jessica Meirovici
Jessica is currently pursuing her Masters degree in education and society at McGill University. Her masters project entails creating a course curriculum to combat the negative outcomes of volunteer tourism and help students learn how to properly and equitably engage while working and traveling abroad.
This paper addresses educational accessibility and opportunities for people with different and/or special learning needs in Montreal. Online research as well as interviews with, educators, social workers, government employees, resource teachers and experts in the field of inclusive education were conducted. Problems identified include the placement of children with disabilities or special learning needs in a class without proper support, a lack of financial resources, a lack of well trained teachers who can manage a large group of diverse learners, a lack of support for teachers, and a lack of accessibility to bilingual resources through the Montreal English School Board. The paper offers recommendations, including that school boards and educators adapt their perspective on inclusive education, create more and better teacher training and incentive structures, provide more access to available resources, and provide access to resources in both official languages.
Gal is a recent graduate of McGill University with a degree in geography (urban systems) and international development studies with a minor in environment. Her past research experience has included a global analysis of urban sprawl patterns, an investigation of accessibility to public transit in Panama City, and a study of the environmental impact of academic related long-distance travel at McGill.
This paper addresses university classroom learning spaces and design innovations that facilitate connections and interaction between students and educators and improve educational outcomes. As explained, over 60% of Canadian students felt lonely at least once in the preceding year, and this social isolation on university campuses can be addressed in a variety of ways. The paper focuses on 3 ideas and interventions: universal design, student-centered learning through Active Learning Classrooms, and universal design for learning as ways to tackle social isolation. By exploring isolation both inside and outside the classroom at McGill University in Montreal, the paper begins to identify various programs and initiatives to foster social connectedness within higher education. It also looks to create social connectedness through changes in physical spaces on campus, thus employing theories of architectural determinism. Recommendations are informed by literature analysis, interviews and a survey of students at McGill.
Alex is an international development graduate from McGill University with a passion for Indigenous issues and Indigenous rights. During his Fellowship, he worked with the Mohawk community of Kahnawake to identify and propose solutions to different aspects of social and economic isolation. Alex has worked on a conservation initiative in South America to revitalize fading species in the Amazon basin and aims to further community-based research and action in his professional career.
This paper focuses on the social isolation of Kahnawake, a Mohawk territory 10km southwest of Montreal, population 8000. In this context, social isolation relates closely to Indigenous community self-reliance, including with regard to autonomy, political stability, economic prosperity, and cultural sovereignty. The paper argues that the development of autonomy is necessary for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. The following areas are reviewed: history and events that bred animosity, including recent incidents that illustrate the remnants of historical oppression endured by the Mohawk; economic development, with special attention given to the riddance of dependencies and lack of economic diversity, while cultivating interdependencies with other communities in the region; and education, widely believed to be the most effective path to social connectivity and community self-reliance. The paper’s findings were informed by consultations with Mohawk community leaders as well as independent research.
Farah grew up in Agadir, Morocco and Montréal, Canada. She graduated from McGill University in 2017 with a major in international development and a double minor in economics and anthropology. She wishes to pursue a career in sustainable development, which would allow her to continue to explore the fields of humanitarian assistance and project management as well as promote social and economic development. She wishes to undertake a masters in management in the Fall 2019.
Based on analytical research and interviews, this paper assesses the positive impacts and outcomes of Western media narratives on the inclusion of refugees, with the example of Canada as a host society. It explores the ways in which media platforms can shape the public’s attitude towards the inclusion of refugees in receiving and welcoming societies, and to evaluate the impact of Western media in that regard, covering traditional journalism as well as new/social media. Several challenges were identified such as misinformation, inadequate sources, private media corporations’ mandates, and cultural differences. The evidence also highlighted the importance of media reporting in regards to the inclusion of refugees in Canada (acknowledging the traditional impartiality of journalism and free speech rights). The conclusion reflects on how several programs and policies targeting the Canadian government, the general public and media actors can help improve refugees’ sense of belonging in society.
Jeremy Monk graduated from McGill University with a degree in international development studies and history, with a minor in education. A native of Montreal, Jeremy served as a Social Connectedness Fellow before beginning graduate studies in international education development at Columbia University.
This policy brief addresses the international education development agenda in relation to increasing access to and quality of education. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (“ensure inclusive and quality education for all”) has targeted improving school infrastructure, promoting free and equitable primary and secondary schooling, increasing the supply of qualified teachers, and encouraging inclusivity. As explained, this goal focuses on learning outcomes and equity all while continuing to increase access to education. But while these targets are vital for the enhancement of education worldwide, the SDG does not specifically touch on one important factor: improving and increasing community engagement within schools. The author argues that increasing community engagement and utilizing social capital has the opportunity to lead to truly sustainable, local and empowering education development.
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