How to become a global citizen with GCELE
Centennial College values global citizenship, and aims to give its students a worldly perspective as they acquire their education. One way it does so is by offering students the chance to participate in Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experiences, or GCELEs. Students go on trips locally and abroad, and take the first steps in becoming leaders of change. Paikar is a Pharmacy Technician student at Centennial College who went on a GCELE to Gujarat, India in February to help build shelters for women. In the process, she gained new perspective on her role in the world.
“In our first semester,” Paikar says, “Gabriel Bedard came to class from the GEO office and talked about global citizenship, because a lot of our courses have a global citizenship component built in. They mentioned the GCELEs, and that’s how I learned about it. So I kept my eyes peeled and watched the Centennial website, it came up and I applied.”
“In our course, they’re trying to show us that we’re all global citizens, so a lot of things that we do affect the rest of the world,” she explains. “We’re not insular, we’re not just living in this tiny bubble.” Paikar’s interest led her to the GCELE blog, where she read stories from other students who went on trips. Because of that, she decided to go on the journey to India
“It was minus forty in Toronto, and plus forty there,” Paikar jokes about the weather in Gujarat, the populous Indian state on the Arabian sea.
“During the day, we’d have some sort of physical labor component,” she says of her activities. “We were assisting in the building of a safe space.”
She goes on to elaborate on why these spaces are important for women in India. “The tradition is when a girl is born and lives in a house, it’s not really her house, because they’re just waiting to marry her off,” she says. “When she gets married and moves to her husband’s house, then that’s his house, so she has no real space to call her own. So we’re trying to build a space where women who need a break from daily life or who were undergoing some sort of abuse could come and stay and call their own.”
“In the evening,” she continues, “we would go on excursions. A lot of them involved meeting the local community leaders because a lot of them worked with a local charity organization, and they have been active in the area for a long time. They work with local women and try to strengthen them and empower them to make their own decisions. So it wouldn’t be too dreary, we also had excursions to palaces and the Salt Desert.”
“It’s a completely different place, you’re hearing these extremely moving stories, and you’re stepping out of your comfort zone,” Paikar says of the challenges she faced on the trip. “It’s an emotionally turbulent period. Keeping my composure when hearing the personal stories of what people went through and came about to be in the organization made me feel grateful for the life I have, and you kind of realize how resilient the human spirit is.”
While Paikar got the chance to do good deeds on the trip, she also received wisdom and insight from the journey. “At the end of the day, you realize we’re all people and we’re all looking for the same thing,” she says. “We all want security, comfort, to make sure there’s a life for our kids. At the same time, we could also observe the differences between the issues we face and they face, and how we deal with them differently. Different things perpetuate problems here and there.”
“We were encouraged to see what we could take away from it,” Paikar continues. “It forces you to think about how you look at people and you don’t really know what their story is, so you can’t assume that everyone is doing fine. A lot of people have a lot of things behind what’s going on, and we all have issues that we’re facing. It made me more empathetic of people and what they’re going through.”
Because of this, she recommends that every student take a look at a GCELE trek, though they need to be prepared. “You want to enter it with no preconceived notions of what you’re going to see and experience, and you have to enjoy the ride,” she says. “You have to be prepared for the fact that it’s not going to be all fun and games, there may be things you don’t like or agree with. We have a lot of support, so ask questions, because there’s a lot of people there that can give you answers. You might not have all the answers you need but at the same time, it’s about understanding.”
By Anthony Geremia