Murality partners with UBC International Scholars Program

UBC International Scholars Program is cooperating with 10 local organizations for community-based experiential learning projects, emphasizing on “Health Promotion” and “Environmental Sustainability.” Each organization will partner with at most three international students to co-develop and execute a project from January to February.

Since 2001, UBC International Scholars Program has supported many outstanding undergraduate international students who have demonstrated financial need, academic excellence, leadership and a commitment to positive social change.

This is the first time the program reaches out to local communities.

“Often we found that scholars are highly engaged on campus and they have some pretty impressive international engagement. But they don’t have many opportunities to engage with local communities in Vancouver,“ said Peter Wanyenya, the International Student Advisor.

The cooperation even leads students to step into areas they would otherwise avoid and examine it in different perspectives. One of the community partners Murality, a non-profit organization who aims at revitalizing the downtown east side with murals, will bring students and preschoolers together for a project called “The Hair of the Dog Children’s Project.” The inspiration came from a three year old who was asked if she knew what the hair of the dog meant. “YES!!” she said. “ … It’s when the cat licks the dog and gets hair on his tongue and then his tummy feels bad and he throws up and that’s what it is … the hair of the dog!” (This is far from the definition but it's interesting what children come up with).

The students will meet with children from the daycare of Union Gospel Mission in the downtown east side, who are mostly from low income families. The children will be asked questions like “if you were to be the president, what would you make sure everybody got?” Or “if you were the queen, what would you do?” Then the children will draw paintings surrounding the answers they have. The project will later be displayed on the wall in Chinatown, which currently shows the “Jump For Joy” project.

“Many people don’t know that downtown east side has a lot of children,” said Amalia Liapis, the founder of Murality. When people’s imagination about the downtown east side is limited to homeless and drug addicts, they forget that there are actually children who grow up in the environment. Liapis hopes the project can inspire the children to be creative and allow them to be a part of a positive community change.

The staff of the international scholarship program have also been thoughtful about the cooperation with communities. “It’s not just like go out to communities, do some work and see for a few months,” said Wanyenya.

They hope the students will learn the complexity of community. “We want scholars to know that there isn’t just a single narrative of Vancouver,” said Wanyenya.

Students can gain a better understanding of multiple disciplines from this project. Coming from different specialities, they will have to negotiate and compromise the best solution. The off-campus experience is also more challenging compared to the resourceful campus. They have to be more adaptive and productive in the limited time they have.

As UBC International Scholars Program embarks on a new partnership with local communities, these organizations take on the responsibility of educators as well. Students will get hands-on experience by working with the community and hopefully implement their learnings after they return to their home countries.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Peter Wanyenya's last name as "Wenyenya." The Ubyssey regrets the error.