Education

Go abroad, young man, the home front’s hell

Diane Francis March 26 1979
Education

Go abroad, young man, the home front’s hell

Diane Francis March 26 1979

Go abroad, young man, the home front’s hell

Education

A resolution demanding the “liberation of the political prisoners of Quebec” passed by some members of the Quebec counterpart of the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) was the last straw for Jim Griffith of Prince Edward Island. After 10 years as a committee chairman and organizer for CUSO’s program of sending doctors, farmers, teachers and others to work in Third World countries, he quit. Says Griffith: “Factions within the organization are destroying it.”

Members of CUSO’s Quebec division SUCO (Service Universitaire Canadienne Outre-mer) passed the controversial resolution at their annual meeting last October. And according to Griffith, who was a member of CUSO’s board of directors, some SUCO members want to alter the overseas program and use the organization as a platform to espouse political views. SUCO SecretaryGeneral Yvon Madore says the Quebec resolution, passed by SUCO members comprising staff and former volunteers, was never acted upon by the organization’s administrative committee. He labels it “unfortunate and unrepresentative of the beliefs of most members.” But Griffith—and other like-minded CUSO directors—sees the resolution as only one of many SUCO political actions which have polarized members and jeopardized the organization’s funding from Ottawa.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which provides approximately 90 per cent of the money for CUSO and SUCO, is investigating whether it will now come up with the budget request of $11.5 million for the next fiscal year. (CIDA contributes some $1 billion to foreign aid projects on behalf of the department of external affairs. In the case of CUSO it pays for recruitment, training, travel, supervision and administration. The salaries volunteers receive are paid by their host countries at local rates.)

A previous rift within CUSO lead to its complete restructuring in 1973 from a single agency to two independent divisions—one anglophone and one francophone-headed by a 24-member board of directors. The Quebec resolution, coupled with the firing of CUSO Executive Director Robin Wilson, prompted the resignations of Griffith and two other directors and,says Griffith, was the final push in an attempt to change the organization from within. Griffith and Ria Zinck of Nova Scotia (who also resigned) attended a meeting of representatives from CUSO’s 15 Atlantic region universities and urged alRto withdraw support from CUSO in protest. Three did so: the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, Nova Scotia Technical Institute in Halifax and St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The others stayed in, says Zinck, only out of concern for the objectives of CUSO.

Says acting vice-president of ClDA’s special programs Romeo Maione: “The extent of dissatisfaction with CUSO’s operation is the key to whether the organization receives CIDA money this year. If the CUSO-SUCO dispute is merely a tempest in a teapot, then funding will continue. If, on the other hand, the problem represents a struggle to the death, then we must think twice about putting public money into a leaky pot.” Maione is expecting a report of the results of an investigation into CUSO affairs on April 1. “Whatever happens,” he says, “existing overseas placements will not be disrupted.”

Board members Theron Craig of Cal-

gary and Bettie Hewes of Edmonton have both stated that nothing short of a complete divorce between CUSO and SUCO will solve the problem. Hewes threatens to resign unless this is done. After Wilson’s firing, Craig wrote a letter to CIDA, urging the agency to take a close look at CUSO-SUCO. Craig says many SUCO actions have alienated politicians and public alike. Among these were a pro-Palestinian pamphlet which criticized Israel and support for the Polisario movement in the West Sahara region. “I agree with some of these positions,” he says, “but feel they have no place within an organization like CUSO.”

Craig says SUCO receives one-third of ClDA’s funds for overseas work, but sends only one-quarter of the volunteers. Some of this surplus money is being spent on education programs in Canada to expose injustices in Third World countries. According to figures supplied by SUCO’s Madore, SUCO received $2.7 million last year (or $15,388 for each of its 180 workers) and CUSO received $6.3 million (or $9,807 for each of its 650 workers). CIDA gave another $821,000 for educational and special programs to match $479,000 raised by both organizations from the public. Madore explains that SUCO’s costs per worker are higher because it has fewer of them and they are more geographically scattered. SUCO handles placements in mostly francophone countries and CUSO works in the remainder of the Third World.

Simon Bilodeau, a SUCO worker in Mali until he cut short his two-year stint as a teacher because the regime was “repressive,” believes the money would be better spent informing Canadians about injustices, both here and abroad. Bilodeau, who authored the Quebec resolution on political prisoners, says it refers to those involved in the FLQ kidnappings, bombings and murder.

Whatever the outcome of the CUSO vs. SUCO fracas, the situation is particularly upsetting to CUSO volunteers like teachers John Henderson of Toronto and his wife Rabaja Sallie, who are about to leave for Africa this week with 29 others. Aged between 30 and 50, the group includes doctors, farmers, tool and die makers, mechanics and teachers who will interrupt their careers to work for Third World governments.

Henderson and his wife have just returned from a CUSO post in Papua, New Guinea. They say that they fear the rift may eventually mean the scrapping of the overseas program. Says Henderson: “CUSO workers provide real grassroots help to poor nations. What a pity if politics at home sidetracked such an important and valuable program.”

Diane Francis