Internship Spotlight: Zachary Couture

My name is Zachary Couture and I entered my third year U2 at McGill university during the fall of 2020. I am from Edmonton, Alberta, and I am passionate about theatre, arts, human rights, politics and how they relate to one another. This year, I had the honour of interning with Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), with support from the McGill Arts Internship Office and the Chris Tyler Marckmann International Social Work Summer Internship Award.

I have a lot of experience using theatre and art as a medium for social change. Last summer, in 2019, I had interned at Teesri Duniya Theatre in Montreal. Teesri Duniya is a multicultural and political theatre company whose mandate is centred around highlighting the voices of those who are marginalized and discriminated against within Canada, and globally. While working with Teesri Duniya, I had worked on many projects including: an independent study on Arab narratives and characterizations in Western English-language theater; a second, more broad study on theatre as a tool for socio-political mobilization; and finally, my own personal theatre script. To this day, I continue to work on projects that bridge the intersections of theatre and performance with social justice and empowerment. I am currently working with Teesri Duniya Theatre on a project called “Leave Out Racism”, where we document interviews that we conduct with various individuals about the negative impacts of Law 21 in Quebec, to convert into a theatrical format. I am also currently directing a radio show with Tuesday Night Café Theatre and CKUT 90.3 FM Radio, which will explore the intergenerational realities of cultural genocide and erasure.

It was based on this growing experience that I had proposed my project idea to IFSSA, which eventually developed into an internship. My idea was to run online storytelling and theatre workshops for newcomer and refugee youth and their friends. I had noticed a lot of the publicly available summer youth programming in the Edmonton area had unfortunately been closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has left a lot of children without any kind of engagement to stimulate their young minds.

I had first made contact with IFSSA after I was introduced to some of the executives through a friend. It was after some initial conversations over Google Hangout that I had proposed my project idea. Shortly afterwards, the staff at IFSSA and I began discussing the possibility of turning this project into an internship.

IFSSA largely works to aid the Muslim diaspora located in Edmonton, although not exclusively. IFSSA offers a variety of support to those going through hardships, including services to help refugees and newcomers find work and establish themselves in the community, youth programming, mental health services and family support assistance. I was particularly excited at the prospect of having this be my internship organization because of the connection to my major, World Islamic and Middle East Studies (WIMES). In the past, when I had looked through McGill’s internship databases, very few internships listed were related to WIMES, and none were with organizations based in Canada. I think this opportunity is not just one that is of interest to me, but to numerous other students in my department.

My work during the internship was largely to bring my proposed project to life. To do this, I created an official proposal and mandate for the programs I wanted to develop, launched a bilingual English-Arabic online advertisement campaign, attended regular weekly meetings with my internship supervisors, determined the schedule and structure of the programs, developed a detailed plan of children’s stories and one-act plays to be used, and finally, documented the adjustments made to make the program accessible to a newcomer audience over Zoom.

Aside from this project, I created two small online repositories that included a list of family activities, advice, and accessible resources; these were called “tips and tricks for public speaking and performance” and “storytelling at home”. I was also given the opportunity to network with Edmonton-based social workers and activists involved in similar projects.

The biggest highlight of this internship, by far, was getting to work with the participants over Zoom. I had a lot of fun playing games with them.

This internship has been an incredible experience and I am excited about the work I did and am continuing to do with IFSSA. My internship supervisors were very welcoming and helped me a lot with my Arabic. I would like to thank Mr. Bill Mooney and Ms. Brandee Marckmann for funding me and this internship through the Chris Tyler Marckmann International Social Work Summer Internship Award. This award helped support my living expense costs during my internship and I would not have been able to accept this amazing opportunity without the financial support.

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