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International Development Conference
December 7, 2007

The third annual Faith and International Development conference will be held at Calvin College Thursday-Saturday, January 31-February 2. This year, the conference is expected to draw some 400 students from all over the United States eager to learn more about international development and to meet one another.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Sustainability: Fruit that Lasts,” based on John 15:5: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.”

“Doing work that lasts for generations is central to the idea of development,” said junior Morgan Briggs, the public relations coordinator for the conference. “We have decided to apply that theme to four key development areas: community, ecology, healthcare and economics.”

Each of the plenary speakers for the conference will zero in on one of these development targets. “We chose speakers from different cultures and from different specialties who had also had field experience with development,” Briggs said. “They will focus on how their organizations try to make their work sustainable and also how their faith and beliefs influence their development work.”

  • Ida Mutoigo, the Canadian Director of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) was the former Director of the CRWRC’s Eastern and Southern Africa team.
  • Edward Cardoza, the Director of Development for Partners in Health, worked with refugees from East Timor while studying at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. He has also served in the Office of AIDS Ministry and the chaplaincy office at Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • Ernso Jean Louis, a member of Partners Worldwide Million Mentors program, began Haitian Partners for Christian Development with the goal of creating sustainable jobs in Haiti. He has created eight businesses and over 3000 jobs there.
  • Luis Noda, the Latin America Regional Director of Food for the Hungry International, has a background in agricultural engineering and development and was formerly a supervisor of the Seeds National Program for Bolivia’s Ministry of Agriculture.

A fifth plenary session will feature a panel discussion between the four speakers and the audience. Because speakers often have varying approaches to development, the conference organizers wanted to create a dialogue between them, Briggs said. “We want them to give students a chance to ask them questions, and they want speakers to have a chance to go back and forth in discussion.”

Breakout sessions will feature field workers from the various organizations sponsoring the conference. One session will focus on organizational models for development. “Each organization will provide specific ideas of programs they’ve started and ways they’ve been particularly successful or particularly problematic-and the reasons why,” Briggs said. Other breakouts will be skills workshops that teach students how to do grant writing, give community surveys, identify community resources, handle donor relations, and create evaluation plans. Yet another breakout session will cover vocational training for development, featuring volunteer opportunities, internships and career opportunities.

Organizers are excited about the innovations they’ve introduced to this year’s conference. One such premiere event is the Broken Bread Poverty Meal, sponsored by Acting on AIDS. “The point of the meal is to know what it’s like to be hungry, to only have a small portion to eat,” Briggs said. Conference attendees can choose to eat this meal-consisting of grains such as maize and soybean mixed with water to the consistency of porridge-instead of regular fare for one dinner. “We’ll have a speaker there to kind of guide students in thinking about what poverty looks like in day-to-day living throughout the world,” Briggs said.

Another new element is the amount of networking time the conference organizers have built into the conference schedule. Things like topic tables, discussion times and the half-hour breaks between sessions will afford the conference goers plenty of breathing room to meet-and-greet and compare notes.

The Four Corners Café, a coffee shop serving fair trade coffee, and the exhibition tables for various development organizations will provide even more crucial networking time. The key sponsors for this year’s Faith and International Development Conference are the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, International Aid, the Mennonite Central Committee, Partners Worldwide and World Vision.

“The idea is that students get connected with representatives of various organizations who are there and also meet with students from other colleges who have similar interests,” Briggs said. “I think it’s helpful for organizations too because they really appreciate meeting the students who are passionate about working out in the world and may one day work for their organizations.”

Every conference, since its inception in 2005, has been completely student conceived, organized and led. Faculty mentor Roland Hoksbergen, the director of Calvin’s International Development Program, notes how inspiring it is to work with these students. “The fact that these young people learn, grow, and become better servant leaders to all God’s people around the world is an inspiration to us all,” he said.

Based on the feedback they’ve received from the past two Faith and International Development Conferences, the organizers know that this event is a vital time of re-envisioning for up-and-coming development leaders: “What makes the conference so beneficial is that it’s a refreshing and motivating time,” Briggs said. “When you’re doing your day-to-day studies, you forget the end goal of your studies. This conference reminds you of all the opportunities there are to apply that knowledge on the field one day.”

Registration for the Faith and conference costs $40, which includes all meals, housing with Calvin students and access to all sessions. Registration closes on January 18.

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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