Social Justice and Human Rights
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Fuertes Travels to Philippines and Rwanda

Plantation visit
Students visit a tropical fruit plantation in the Philippines.

For many people, summer break is an opportunity to relax and slow down, but for New Century College faculty member Al Fuertes this summer was a time to pursue his own teaching, research and outreach to diverse audiences overseas. From the Philippines to Rwanda, Fuertes pursued his efforts to promote healing and understanding, especially among victims of human rights violations.

Fuertes led a group of nine students on a four-week trip to the Philippines in his six-credit course Human Trafficking, Environmental Issues and Grassroots Peacebuilding. Students visited tropical fruit plantations and the communities that rely on them for employment yet often suffer from exposure to pesticides. Students also visited three of the world’s largest landfills to learn how local residents survive in neighboring areas. Contrasting these experiences, students also visited an organic rice farm and swam in protected waters home to giant, gentle whale sharks.

In addition to environmental concerns, students also learned about the human rights issues facing residents. Through local NGOs, students heard first hand accounts of human trafficking and listened to survivors’ stories of escape and reentry to society. Students also experienced a home stay with local families and participated in service learning with NGOs to address specific areas of interest such as education, conservation and community development.

Finally, students spent time at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) where they learned about peacebuilding, post-war reconstruction and community development. Fuertes led one session on trauma and healing as part of the MPI experience. One key component in all Fuertes’ courses is his focus on how American students can impact these global challenges regarding social and environmental justice.

Following this intensive four-week course, Fuertes led four additional worshops to foster understanding of complex and difficult topics. The first three were conducted in the Philippines. The first was through MPI, the second was centered on conflict resolution in public schools. It was organized by the Department of Education, Surigao City Division, attended by school principals, supervisors, and superintendents. The third focused on human trafficking in the Philippines and was organized by the Center for Islam and Democracy, and KaSaMa, in cooperation with the Philippine Government Insurance System (GSIS).

Fuertes’ forth workshop was conducted in Rwanda and addressed methods for first-line service providers to support their personal healing while continuing their critical work in community development. In the 1990s, Rwandans experienced a civil war that led to the mass killings of an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 people. Today, Rwandan communities continue to recover from this grim history.

In his role as workshop facilitator, Fuertes encouraged participants to explore the theme of resilience and the nature and dynamics of healing. The group included members from various ethnicities, and all had suffered personal loss from the Rwandan mass genocide.

Despite their ties to the different sides of the conflict, Fuertes noted that all participants worked to understand and share. He said, “It was surprising to me that there was so little blame and not much tension in the room.”

Using a variety of activities to help establish a safe environment for communication, Fuertes helps participants identify the causes of trauma and define their own vision for healing at the personal and community levels.

Fuertes said, “My approach in these workshops is very interdisciplinary…Trauma destroys relationships, cultures and lives… Everyone has a role to play in reconciliation… [As a facilitator] part of my role is to help participants realize that no matter how victimized someone is, they are all participants in their own healing.”

The workshop was sponsored by the United Evangelical Mission, and Fuertes concluded his trip with a visit to the Hotel des Milles Collines. This hotel was made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda which told the story of more than 1,200 people who sought refuge there in 1994.

This semester, Fuertes teaches NCLC 101: Narratives of Identity and NCLC 475: Human Trafficking and the International Community.

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