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Peace through empowerment

What do wheelchair accessible schools in Palestine, microfinance programs for women in Jordan, and electricity in remote communities in Israel have in common? They were all brought about by the International Community Action Network (ICAN).

Jim Torczyner of the School of Social Work founded MMEP more than 10 years ago based on a simple belief – that if you empower those most affected by conflict and promote relationships both within and between societies, people will ultimately be inspired to create social change and find common ground.

With the help of partner institutions from Palestine, Jordan and Israel, brought together by a common commitment to social justice, the program has since established 11 Rights Based Community Practice centres in poor areas across the region. At the centres, disenfranchised people from the surrounding areas can consult lawyers and social workers, many of whom are graduates of McGill, to get help with issues like housing, income and education. People are informed about their rights and encouraged to become active in shaping their society.

The rights-based approach focuses on working with members of society – rather than for them. The key, says Torczyner, is to give people the skills and tools they need to help themselves. “The people here are fully capable of actualizing their rights, they just need the necessary knowledge and direction.”

The centres now serve over 120,000 people a year and have a hefty list of success stories to show for it. “The idea of rights-based social work was non-existent in the region before the centres were established,” says Torczyner. “Now other organizations are asking us to show them how to do the same thing.”

MMEP has received essential funding for its groundbreaking work from the Canadian International Development Agency, the Quebec government and private donors.

“MMEP is a true testament to what a university like McGill can do by putting the best of our minds and our hearts into solving problems,” Torczyner says. “There is a culture at McGill that recognizes the importance of public service and applying academics to fieldwork in order to make a difference. McGill has earned that reputation around the world.”

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