By Allison Ridgway
Ryerson social work professor Henry Parada’s project to protect and empower youth in the Dominican Republic has received $1.5 million of funding through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
“Ryerson students can be very proud of this initiative,” Federal MP Lois Brown, who accounted the project on behalf of International Development Minister Julian Fantino, said at a press conference in the Ryerson Image Centre Tuesday. “This project will improve the safety and quality of life for at least 10,000 of the boys and girls in the Dominican Republic who live in the poorest and most vulnerable communities in that country.”
Parada, the graduate program director at the school of social work, has seen such poverty first-hand on his numerous trips to the country. Since 1999, he has worked in different communities to implement social programs that protect children from abuse and exploitation.
According to the World Bank, more than one in four children in the Dominican Republic live in poverty, while six per cent suffer severe malnutrition. This poverty leaves children vulnerable to sexual and labour exploitation and often leaves them with no one to turn to for help, Parada said.
This summer, he and at least 12 other professors from universities across Canada will return to the Dominican to assess the work that has been done and create future youth-focused development projects.
“These programs are run by youth with youth in order to protect children’s rights,” Parada said. “And of course these programs are all created under the anti-oppressive practices and philosophy that characterize our school.”
Purnima George, an associate professor at the school of social work who is traveling to the Dominican this summer with Prada, said the project will also help politically active youth make “real political change.”
“We want to develop municipal councils of youth who will help influence the public policy process,” she said.
Parada plans to not only work with government organizations that protect children in the country, but will also include youth themselves, empowering them through educational programs and leadership training to be their own advocates.
Although professors and CIDA are running the initiative for now, Ryerson students may soon be able to take part. Susan Silver, an associate professor of social work at Ryerson, said students will be able to travel to the Dominican to help with these projects once Parada gets the project established.
“For now we need to learn from the experiences of the youth in this country,” said Silver. “Our project is not just about knowledge transfer, it’s about knowledge exchange. It’s about empowerment.”