A schooling in solidarity

By Dean Dettloff, Animator for Central Ontario

The Development and Peace Schools Program was piloted in 23 Catholic schools across Ontario.

In 2020, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada piloted a new Schools Program in Ontario designed to encourage students to embody their faith through solidarity. Participating schools earned badges for taking on social justice challenges ranging from inverting maps to planting a tree. Looking back a year later, the program has not only proven successful and ready for wider rollout, but also led to surprising innovations from students going above and beyond anything the program envisaged.

At Bishop P. F. Reding Catholic Secondary School in Milton, Ont., for example, students experimented with the “Dress Down, Speak Up” badge. The program kit suggested having a non-uniform day and contacting uniform manufacturers to request information about their labour and supply chains. Bishop Reding students went a step further by wearing their shirts inside-out and back-to-front, making the tag visible, showing where the garment was made.

“Our club got the opportunity to run an initiative on our own, implementing our own ideas while at the same time using the foundation that the Schools Program provided,” said Nicolas Fortun, a student in the Development and Peace club at Bishop Reding. “We learned more about the oppression workers experience, being underpaid and underappreciated, as well as chipping in to fight for a good cause by holding a fundraiser and spreading awareness around our school.”

To earn badges, schools had to complete fun activities and challenges linked to various environmental or social justice issues.

Accompanied by animators, students joined people of all ages across Canada, united by our work and the Recovering Together campaign, which highlighted the social impact of COVID-19. The Schools Program has thus brought into the Development and Peace community a new generation that is learning to make a difference—and having a good time doing it!

Take it from Karisa Sol-Edeigba, a grade 11 student at Bishop Reding. “I had such a blast in D&P last year! I’m so glad D&P made so many resources available to members, especially the campaigns that gave us the opportunity to be educated on current events. Something I learnt about social justice is how needed it is on a local level, especially in our communities. D&P meetings are not only educational but so much fun! Being able to learn from the affected and those making real change is very inspiring.”

Teachers and chaplains also made the program come alive, ensuring that students had the space to develop their leadership capacities and confidence. In a world with so many big problems, Development and Peace’s educational approach helps ground students in knowledge of the root causes of injustice, making sense of what can feel like an overwhelmingly unfair planet.

“D&P is focused on encouraging for change. They have educated me on the origin of global poverty,” said Inaaya Ahmed, a grade 10 student at Bishop Reding. “From assisting fundraisers, to becoming a leader in our D&P school club, Development and Peace has provided me opportunities like no other. I’m looking forward to participating once again this year!”

Bishop Reding was not the only school to adopt Development and Peace’s mission.

Sayla Rodrigues, a leader in the Development and Peace club at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., said, “My favourite badge to complete was the ‘Lesson Learned’ badge.” This badge is earned by completing an activity from an extensive database. At Loyola, students made posters and a lesson plan to raise awareness about the effects of plastic waste from water bottles.

“Our lesson plan involved differentiating between drinking and non-drinking water, and how access to drinking water is a rising crisis in countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia,” Rodrigues explained. “Our club truly made a meaningful impact with this initiative.”

With enough substance to get going but room to experiment, the program is giving students opportunities to think creatively as they engage our world locally and globally. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, 23 schools participated in last year’s pilot. With the program going into full swing, 59 schools have signed up this year and more are coming on board as word spreads about what the program can provide to students.

In a final document for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the bishops wrote that while some youths are indifferent to social issues, “there are many others who are ready to commit themselves to initiatives of voluntary work, active citizenship and social solidarity, and they need to be accompanied and encouraged, so as to bring out their talents, skills and creativity and to provide incentives for them to assume responsibility.”

Our Schools Program is doing exactly that!

Register to become a Development and Peace School here.