“My experience with CFCA provided me with my first experience with international development…I felt that I had met ‘my people’…”
An interview with Susan Spronk
Assistant Professor, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa
How and when did you first get involved with CFCA?
I first became involved in Change for Children as a high school student in the early 1990s. I attended a Global Justice weekend and felt that I had met “my people”—other kids who wanted to change the world! After that, I started to volunteer, which mostly consisted of stuffing envelopes for the mail out of the newsletter in the old office above the school. Through those mail-outs, I got to know the staff and get more deeply involved. While studying politics and the University of Alberta, I attended two Instruments for Change tours to Nicaragua and after graduation worked as a CIDA intern with the Institute for Human Promotion in Managua, Nicaragua in 1999 (one of CFCA’s partners).
What have you learned through your involvement with CFCA?
My experience with CFCA provided me with my first experience with international development. It was a wonderful place to meet like-minded people and discuss global politics and social justice issues, setting me on my current career path. One of the things that has always impressed my about CFCA is how such a small organization of dedicated staff and volunteers can accomplish so much. The other lesson that I have learned from CFCA is the importance of connecting the local to the global. I have always admired CFCA’s insistence on the principle that change starts at home, which makes the educational programs that focus on youth in schools so important.
Name a favourite or memorable experience being involved with CFCA.
One of my favourite memories of being involved with CFCA was performing in a traditional dance with my Nicaraguan counterparts as part of a cultural exchange workshop in the neighbourhood Las Torres in Managua, Nicaragua. We spent two days in a steamy community centre in a workshop learning the moves. For the day of the show, one of the girls lent me a skirt, back-combed my hair and painted me up. Photos of that event show me, red-faced and laughing trying to keep up with their quick, undulating moves. The experience introduced me to the wonderful, vibrant culture of Latin America!
How have your experiences with Change for Children influenced what you’re doing today? How will it influence what you do in the future?
In my introduction to development class at the University of Ottawa, I start the class by quoting Hank Zyp’s (CFCA Founder) twist on an old cliché: “If you give a fish to feed a hungry person today he/she will need another one tomorrow; if you teach a whole community to fish they will have food for a lifetime. Wise words, but what is missing is what to do if they do not have a lake to fish in.” Change for Children taught me that social justice is fundamentally about a more equitable distribution of assets and wealth. As such, ‘development’ is not a technical, but a political problem that requires collective solutions. This message is one that I work to impart on my students.
My early involvement with CFCA has also inspired me to keep my research connected to grassroots struggles. As Margaret Mead put it: “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” My work in Ottawa might have offered me better access to upper-policy circles, but my inspiration still comes from social movements in Latin America. For that reason, I aim to produce academic research that matters and hope to continue to do so in the future!