Delegates hold the Portuguese version of the campaign banner, on which 80,000 Canadians signed their support of small-scale farmers to help cool the earth, on Sugarloaf mountain overlooking Copacabana Beach. Photo by Shelley Burgoyne

A willing spirit goes a long way for D&P group

By  Shelley Burgoyne, Catholic Register Special
  • June 28, 2012

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - Arriving in Rio de Janeiro on June 14, the nine young women and two staff of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace delegation, weren’t sure what to expect. We had prepared for more than six months for our journey to the People’s Summit, which ran parallel to the United Nations Conference on Environmental Sustainability known as Rio+20. We experienced inspiring events, insightful workshops, peaceful community and so much more.

It’s hard to confine our experience to just a few moments, but when we all came together on the beach one day, nestled at the foot of the famous Sugarloaf Mountain, to review our experiences, a few key stories and sentiments resonated with the group.

We were overwhelmed by the connections we made here. Through official meetings and informal gatherings, large plenaries and one-on-one discussions, we learned so much from those we met. Speaking with those who live in developing nations and who work in civil society reinforced the work we do as D&P members and staff in Canada. To know we believe in the same things despite cultural or linguistic differences was truly amazing. The whole time was filled with a great sense of partnership, friendship and sharing.

When one of our delegates was approached by an indigenous Amazonian to chat, she wasn’t quite sure how best to express herself since she spoke no Portuguese and he spoke no English or French. Instead of rejecting the conversation, she decided to speak from her heart, and soon afterwards they began to understand one another and share details about where they live and what their lives are like. This proved to her, and to us, that if we just open ourselves up to people with a willing spirit, we can learn so much.

It’s odd to be in such a stunning country and yet be so eager to get home.

But that’s exactly how we felt after some of our workshops. The ideas, the energy and the commitment behind the hundreds of movements and organizations present was so thrilling and only made us eager to spread the word back home.

Each year during our fall campaign, we work to raise awareness and ask Canadians to act to make the world more just. This year, 80,000 Canadians signed their name to support small-scale farming as a way to reduce carbon emissions and help cool the Earth. We put this information on a banner and carried it proudly during the march through Rio on June 21.

The next day, we presented that banner to our partner organization, Jubilee South, as a physical sign of our commitment to supporting work. In turn, they shared with us incredible wisdom about the proposed green economy and what it really means for people of the Global South.

Knowing how destructive the commodification of natural resources will be for those who live in the South, how it threatens to take away the rights to their own land, only encourages us to keep talking about these issues and sharing with our brothers and sisters back home that there are alternatives that uphold the rights of individuals and don’t put corporate profit ahead of the rights of communities.

This is only scratching the surface of what we feel we learned and accomplished at the People’s Summit. We’ve greeted famous figures, had dinner with faith leaders from around the world, met with the lead negotiator of the Canadian government’s delegation and been witness to the knowledge of people from every corner of the globe.

As we dug our toes into the yellow sand one afternoon, our bodies weak and tired and our brains buzzing after all the stimulation, we took a moment to look at our surroundings and just give thanks for the opportunity to be here, in that moment and for this summit.

(Burgoyne is youth programs officer at the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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