While organizing its Virtual Vaisakhi celebration back in April, teacher Jas Gill was surprised to discover a lack of awareness about an equally important event in the community and around the globe – the ongoing India farmers protests in Abbotsford.
The Rick Hansen Secondary School teacher noticed both students and his colleagues in the Abbotsford School District were unfamiliar with why these protests were occurring and how important they were to local families and others across the planet.
It was from those moments of uncertainty that the Equity for Humanity project began. Gill combined educators and students from elementary, middle and secondary schools in Abbotsford to speak out for a common goal – let’s get to know each other and our cultures better.
“I realized it is far too often as society we lack education regarding traditions, history, injustices that have happened to other communities/cultures which prevents us from knowing what is happening,” he said. “If we are not fully aware, we are not able to offer support. This is very much the case in our school systems. Our students come from various backgrounds and have a variety of cultural norms which play a factor into their day-to-day life. How can we best support our students in all schools in Abbotsford and B.C. if we as educators and parents do not take the time to understand the communities.”
Gill said he was pleased with the response to a video he made called ‘What is Vaisakhi?.’ This video was published prior to this year’s Virtual Vaisakhi event at RHSS and he said that feedback helped get the wheels spinning for the Equity for Humanity project.
And it wasn’t just the India farmers protests that more knowledge and context was needed. Gill said other recent cultural events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, conflicts in Israel and the residential schools debate can all be examined more thoroughly at the school level for everyone to gain a better understanding. And Gill said students are eager to have those conversations, which means educators should be willing to provide that forum and encourage the learning and understanding to take place.
“We will ideally realize that cultural equity is needed at all levels,” he said. “We have a lot in common with each other and our differences are simply unique features about us and not any negative aspects to anyone’s lives. Providing an opportunity for others to learn about different cultures is very important.”
He gathered teachers and administrators from all three levels of school and they shared both their vision for the future and what they have been working on recently. The idea being that the more educators on-board and continuing the conversation, the better. Gill said he also received a lot of support for the project from the Abbotsford School District.
Educators and administrators then spoke on camera about the importance of Equity for Humanity and the video was then edited and produced by Grade 12 Abbotsford Senior Secondary School student Gibi Saini. The goal is for this to be an ongoing and evolving project with the goal to help everyone respect and understand each other’s cultures in a more meaningful way.
“For me, it is very personal as I firmly believe that if you take the time to understand someone else’s culture first, then they are more likely to understand yours,” Gill said. “This was a great opportunity in having Abby Schools Educators come together on a common level and demonstrate the need for equity, showcasing how it is happening, and how we can grow this conversation in our schools.”