Building bridges, making connections: Three stories from Mer et Monde

June 28, 2019 — Last summer, Mer et Monde, an organisation for international solidarity based in Quebec, celebrated 20 years or service. Inspired by the ideas of Michel Corbeil, S.J., each year it trains some 300 interns in international cooperation and supports partners in Senegal, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in their development projects. The entire process is based on solid principles, encouraging interns to develop their judgement and critical thinking, something that makes all the difference in the field. A number of interns share their experience.

Aude Roy Blanchette - Québec Without Borders Participant, Senegal 

Before I left for Senegal, a woman told me that this experience would change my life. I never believed how true this would be though. I fell in love with Senegal. I met people there who I will remember forever.    

Coming back to Québec forced me to make a decision. I, along with many others, turned a corner in my journey and started a Master’s in International Development. Every day, this program lets me make connections to my experiences in Senegal. Then, last February, I got the chance to seize another opportunity and have another experience of international solidarity, but this time as the leader of a team sent by Québec Without Borders.  

Samuel Racette - Participant in the Québec Without Borders project “La basura que no es basura”, Costa Rica.  

The project that we are helping with seeks to raise public awareness about waste management, because recycling is something that’s relatively new in rural Costa Rica. 

Early on, it was difficult to see which direction we were going to take. We weren’t used to the rhythm of life here, which is much more laid back and relaxed, and it was difficult for many of us to live without a rigid timetable. This exercise in letting go was really enriching and allowed us to take things a little slower.  

There are only a handful of people who have managed, by themselves, to launch a number of movements, educate people to pay attention to the environment, or get entire communities involved in something like reforestation. This made me realise the impact each and every one of us can have on our environment and that the power that we each have as individuals is much greater than we can imagine. We just have to believe in our projects and give enough time for those ideas to take root. 

Catherine Marcotte and Étienne Dorval - interns for Ker Yay, Maison des mères in Sénégal 

Catherine : I’m currently a student in Social Services at Laval University in Québec City. I’m particularly interested in the intercultural sphere and in intercultural solidarity. I recently chose to do an internship in Senegal to broaden my horizons.   

Étienne : Before studying Social Work at Laval, I did a program in Specialised Education. I’m very interested in the field of aid relationships, but there was a more communal aspect missing in the work I wanted to do and the international aspect interested me greatly. Social work, I thought, would help me make this link.  

Interest in Mer et Monde 

Catherine : We were offered a choice between two African countries for our internships: Mali and Senegal. From what I understood, for Senegal, Mer et Monde were offering pre-departure training and then supervision on we got there. This was why I chose them. I thought that it was great that I would be able to rely on someone who could act as an interpreter or middleman if certain communication issues arose. I also thought that it was worth being well prepared before leaving since getting a good understanding of the realities and the culture would ensure the respect of the community welcoming us.  

Étienne: For me, choosing Mer et Monde was not quite as thought out. I had chosen to go to Mali. Unfortunately, due to the sociopolitical climate, the internship couldn’t take place. I was instead offered a place in the group who were going to Senegal and I bought into the philosophy of M et Monde. 

Working with Ker Yaay 

Catherine: The organization is open to all dimensions of the family. Everything we do start with the needs expressed by the community. Building this community, by supporting and building up these women and families, we come to help out the most underprivileged children.  

Étienne : We focus on exchanges and our main method is to get the communities engaged. We show them ways to do things that come from our experience and know-how, but we’re also open to their own instincts and traditions. This way, we build something together.  

Lessons Learned 

Étienne : Now I see the inequality between those in the Global North and South more clearly than before. It’s something that’s become more tangible and I can now speak about it with an understanding of its causes. I now have something to bring to this discussion. 

Catherine : One thing that will stay with me was how much everyone cared about one another. One of the young people in our group said he was worried about another because he didn’t have any access to education. He wasn’t just concerned with his own problems, but also those of his friends. 

Étienne : It also made me think that I should change my work rhythm. We all know that in Africa that the rhythm is different, but it’s in a large part due to the fact that the task isn’t the biggest priority, but rather the person themselves. I think it will be important to hold onto this perspective through my work as a social worker.  

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