On Halloween, Derrek Bentley encourages high school students to trick-or-treat for clothing, non-perishable food items, or monetary donations instead of candy. This is one part of “A Homeless Night,” a project Bentley has organized for the past six years.
The experiential project is designed to raise high school students’ awareness and understanding of homelessness in Winnipeg. Students learn about the complexities of homelessness, spend one night sleeping outside in a cardboard shelter, and volunteer at organizations that serve those who are homeless.
Bentley, who graduated with an International Development Studies (IDS) degree this year, is passionate about educating youth and encouraging them to challenge misconceptions about homelessness.
“There’s a lot of value in influencing and forming people while they’re young. The older you get, the harder it is to change things you’ve believed all your life,” he says.
Educating about development and peace topics has been a theme throughout Bentley’s work and studies. He completed his practicum with Peace Days Manitoba, an organization whose mission is to “promote and advance peace and compassion as well as celebrate the harmony and cultural diversity of the citizens of Manitoba.”
Bentley worked in communications, maintaining the organization’s website and social media presence and helped organize the kickoff events for the ten-day festival.
The goal of Peace Days is to “make people more aware of the importance of peace. If we’re more aware of it, perhaps we can work more strongly together to make a difference,” he says.
Working together to effect change is a part of participatory development, a concept that resonated with Bentley during his IDS degree.
He describes participatory development as “talking to the people you’re targeting to see what they would like to see so they’re more engaged and drive the whole process.” It involves asking questions such as ‘What do the people actually want?’ and ‘What would actually work to accomplish this?’
Bentley explains that this approach is useful for international, large-scale, development projects but that it can also transfer to smaller-scale, local projects. He’s passionate about working to address the needs he sees here in Canada.
“I see a lot of value in working at Canadian issues first. It’s very important to help internationally, but you should never forget about your own backyard,” he says. “You need to understand your own backyard before you try to make a difference internationally.”
As the Supervisor for Visitor Services at the Canadian Human Rights Museum, Bentley combines his interests in education and making a difference locally. He supervises a team of hosts who ensure that visitors have the best museum experience possible.
Bentley encourages those interested in studying IDS to “give it a try.” While studying Human Rights and Global Studies, he took a first year IDS course and enjoyed it so much he decided to pursue a double major. He views the two fields as complimentary, describing development as fulfilling some of the practical implications of human rights.
“[IDS] makes you want to make a difference when you find out that all the challenges in the world could be changed if the proper resources and time were spent on changing them,” he says.
Ellen Paulley is the Writer and Social Media Coordinator for Menno Simons College