This week, Student Life and a number of clubs and societies celebrated COEN week at UTM. This was an opportunity for members of the Community Outreach Engagement Network to showcase the efforts and events that members generally carry out throughout the year to engage the UTM student population both on and off campus.

Events included a Volunteer Abroad session by UTM Students Offering Support, a Big Brothers Big Sisters dance class with the UTM Dance Club, and Islamic Relief’s Lend A Hand event.

The Medium rounded up the highlights of the week.

Dance Class

Big Brothers Big Sisters, an afterschool mentoring program, is not based on academics, tutoring, or school-related activities. Instead, the program is dedicated to spending time with the “littles”—young kids participating in the program—to help distract them from tense matters that may be present in school or in their lives.

“The goal is to just have fun, to be their friend and to be there for them as a positive role model,” says Julianna Lu, a fourth-year forensic biology specialist.

The program holds a session every Wednesday at UTM’s Spiegel Hall. Different clubs and societies participate in facilitating a night. Through various icebreakers and activities, the mentors mingle with the littles throughout the night.

“Every week, there is a new opportunity to grow with the littles, each mentor, and with yourself. It’s great to come out of your shell and work with little kids, using what I’ve learnt in my leadership toolbox from previous experiences and applying it to this program,” says Elvin Velasco, a third-year art and art history double major.

This week, the UTM Dance Club facilitated the session and held a dance class.

“Speaking for all of the mentors, it’s like their getaway from all of their stresses from school and whatever’s happening in life and just being with the kids. Having the UTM Dance Club as part of COEN week, it’s exciting and kind of worrying too just because of knowing the kids. Some kids are just sitting out because they’re uncomfortable, but this gives us the opportunity to encourage them to do the dancing […] [and] to help the littles realize that as long as they try, maybe they can get something out of the experience,” says Velasco.

The program’s effects are certainly not one-sided—the mentors too learn from their experiences.

“Almost after every session, I go home smiling. It really gives back; working with all these littles is amazing. I can’t explain the feelings that you get after. You feel like you’re on cloud nine after working with these kids,” says Jacquelyn Smith, a second-year sociology student. “Honestly I would recommend it to anyone thinking about it—it’s a really great program. I just want to emphasize how great these kids are; sometimes they don’t want to cooperate but you still get to know them really well. It’s a challenge dealing with it sometimes, but it’s rewarding and it’s fun.”

Marlo Young, a fourth-year anthropology and PWC double major, says that she enjoyed being able to bring both UTM Student Life and the UTM Dance Club together.

“It was also great to have the event as part of COEN Week, because it added a twist to what students traditionally think of community engagement. It’s great to work with people so enthusiastic about what they do!” says Young who is the VP social of the UTM Dance Club and a COEN chair.

Documentary: Billions of Change

UTM Student Life arranged a showing of Billions of Change, followed by a panel discussion.

The documentary depicts the story of a group dedicated to changing the lives of billions of people with their simple inventions. The story focuses on Manoj Bhargava, an entrepreneur renowned for producing the five-hour energy drink, and shows his attempts to solve major global issues. Throughout the documentary, viewers can follow his struggles along the way as he attempts to try and change the world.

“When you’re talking about scaling things and societies innovating for themselves, education and technical capacity is a huge thing,” commented Steven Bernstein, a political science professor, during the panel discussion.

From both the panel discussion and my own interpretation of the film, the documentary left me pondering over how a lot of solutions or plans of action are being provided, but there is little being done on educating the public on how they can apply them to help our society.

The panel discussion also raised another point: while large organizations are willing to donate money to various causes, is this enough to eliminate that problem? Or do we need more sustainable solutions? How practical are the implementations?

For example, sanitation is usually a simple matter, but implementing it globally is the challenging part. Even when providing a cheap, innovative product, low income families still may not be able to afford it. There is where accessibility plays its part. In the end, it all comes down to how long we can maintain the changes that are made in society before reeling ourselves back to ground zero.

Personally, I think that the way we think about innovation is really interesting. While you may have the finances to begin a project, there are actually a lot of social and political implications that take part in its assembly.

Lend a Hand with UTM’s Islamic Relief

Last Saturday, UTM’s Islamic Relief held their Lend a Hand event, where a total of 8 club members and volunteers together distributed care kits in downtown Toronto – specifically around the Yonge Street area and near Eaton Centre.

The care kits consisted of toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, gloves, hats, granola bars, juice boxes, a water bottle and Vaseline. According to Fatima Alvi, a second-year biology specialist and marketing executive for the club, a total of 20 care kits were distributed.

Last year, Islamic Relief held a similar event during Reading Week, where approximately 25 kits were distributed. For last year’s event, the club chose to volunteer at St. Felix’s soup kitchen, before heading out to hand out care kits.

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