Exploring social issues: Alternative Reading Week

Parul Kanwar, Isabella Ng & Anastasia Chernous - 26 February 2021

Alternative Reading Week is a yearly service-learning experience that takes place over four days. The program supports residents in learning about the issues affecting our communities. Three residents share their experiences from 2021.

Parul: Understanding indigenous issues

Everything I attended over Alternative Reading Week this year was so fulfilling. The Kairos Blanket Exercise was one of the most informative and immersive experiences I have had since transitioning to a virtual world. While I had previously gone to one of the live exercises, this was no less impactful.

Based in indigenous worldviews and using indigenous traditions and protocols, each KBE Teaching & Sharing Circle addresses historical and contemporary topics in an honest and personal way by blending data and facts with personal stories.

The course was led by tremendous indigenous elders and educators—although I must admit I was apprehensive and wondered how they could possibly match the impact of an in person session. But the instructors connected with everyone in ways that helped us understand the impacts of residential schools through their story, knowledge and message of hope.

I for one can say that I came out of this experience and Reading Week feeling more rejuvenated, hopeful and more in touch with the land the university stands on and our relationship to those who have lived before us and continue to live with us.

Isabella: Advocating for positive social change

This was my first Alternative Reading Week and although it looked a little different than I expected, it was such a meaningful experience! We learned about and reflected on social issues such as poverty, homelessness and discrimination.

My biggest takeaway from this week is a quote from someone at The Mustard Seed. He led a virtual walk through Edmonton pointing out various organizations working to improve the lives of those living on the streets and/or struggling with addictions. He asked us this convicting question: “What’s the best way to show love to those who need it?” That quote challenged me to not only further educate myself on how the world needs to change but actually take action. Oftentimes, the people who need the most love and support are the ones who are most difficult to reach. However, we should try to avoid putting up the barrier between us and those who seem too different to connect with.

In the documentary we watched, titled Us and Them, Dr. Gabor Maté shared a very important reminder that, in fact, there is no "them" and "us"—there is only us.

Even if you didn't attend Alternative Reading Week, here are two ways to get involved:

  • Advocate for positive social change
  • Volunteer at organizations such as Hope Mission, Boyle Street Community Centre, the Bissell Centre, Root for Trees, iHuman Youth Society, and more!

Additionally, I’d highly encourage every one of you to sign up for the next Alternative Reading Week if you get the chance!

Anastasia: Connecting with our vulnerable communities 

Alternative Reading Week is a valuable experience that I would highly recommend everyone try out at least once during their university career. By volunteering with an organization, students are able to get a sense of interconnectedness with the lives and problems of the less fortunate. They're also able to form valuable connections as they help the community—a valuable commodity during an isolating pandemic.

The sense of being able to help others, being part of something bigger, especially now–what's not to love?

Furthermore, volunteering with Alternative Reading Week enables someone who is interested in volunteering to learn more about the social problems which plague Edmonton’s communities and how to help them. The program puts students in contact with local volunteering organizations and they gain valuable experience and contacts in the Edmonton volunteering scene—experience and contacts they can leverage should they wish to continue volunteering later in life, whether here in Edmonton, or with other organizations elsewhere.

In conclusion, especially now, it is important to look out for each other, to help each other in these most pressing times. Alternative Reading Week is an ideal channel to do this and I would certainly suggest that any student who would be interested in participating next year to do so.

Learn more about Engage Edmonton and how to volunteer.