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Highlights from the 10th Annual Parhad Research Symposium

by Matt Hanson

Peace Bridge Calgary (photo by naserke)
Peace Bridge Calgary (photo by naserke)

On the evening of Wednesday, November 14, a group of concerned citizens from civil society, including affiliates of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary and other actively engaged members of the research and education community dedicated to peace and social justice, convened at The AREA in Inglewood, Calgary. 

The evening began with a heartfelt opening, on request by host Kelly Dowdell, for Dr. Arthur Clark, founding member of the Parhad Programmes, to lead a remembrance for the late Dr. Irma M. Parhad, whose memory and life has inspired the community into its second decade of international peace work. Dr. Irma M. Parhad, besides being the wife of Dr. Clark, was a resilient research scientist and medical doctor, whose passion for research in the areas of human well-being have had such a lasting impact in the world that, as Dr. Clark reminded us, make you truly realize the value of a human life. As he went on, speaking from the heart, he confirmed the notion that when someone like that dies, a part of the world goes dark forever. The Parhad Research students are handpicked to relight the world.

Beginning with two back-to-back presentations on sex-trafficking in Cambodia, students Sarah Joy Herzog and Jenlen Leonard concurred on the astounding levels of poverty and corruption in Cambodian society. Simply, there is not adequate employment, coupled with a "perfect storm" as Leonard put it, of intergenerational gaps due to a legacy of genocide and war, and rigid gender roles. When international pressure mounts, Cambodian judicial pressure discourages all individuals and organizations from continuing their activities, putting all foreign nationals at great legal risk. Equally, the sex trade submerges underground with punctual misdirection, servicing the mostly local Cambodian male client. As one vocal audience member erupted, "sex sells." 

Next, James Nguen, a man with an incredible reputation, and a subject of international peace efforts himself, was a sponsored refugee while a Lost Boy of South Sudan. Nguen has recently achieved academic success as a university graduate. Together with his own organizational development and a Parhad research grant, he has continued efforts to install potable water access in South Sudan. As a country still recovering from one the longest civil war in African history, South Sudan is marred by extreme poverty, including lack of access to basic amenities such as clean water. Nguen closed his presentation by emphasizing the need for education as the most effective recommendation in achieving long-term success in rising out of poverty on a national level. 

The final presentation was extremely compelling. Student researcher Marina McLellan captivated with her charged ethnographic insights into the world of Uzbek and Krygyz rivalries in Kyrgyzstan, a little-known post-Soviet country bordering western China. Her research was dense and clear, and her eloquence was uniquely conveyed with an especially inviting balance of scientific inquiry and personal anecdote. She humanized a relatively unknown society, emphasizing the role of women in peacebuilding, honoring the tragic strength of every modern woman's struggle to find a place in today's world, shedding light on marginality within marginality with the expressive intelligence of a keen observer and heartened listener. 

As a previous Parhad researcher, having completed my placement in 2010, I was touched by the bright continuity which shaped the evening from both the audience and the presenters. I felt honoured to be a part of the community. The AREA has hosted many events related to local sustainability in a variety of means. If "Think Global, Act Local" is a worthy mantra in Canadian society, the 10th Annual Parhad Research Symposium became a true reflection of thinking globally, as the very first step towards effective global citizenry in our every locality. 

Read more about the 2012 Parhad Symposium directly from the words of the researchers at the Calgary Centre for Global Community.


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