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Calgary university to use ‘human books’

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CALGARY—Calgary’s Mount Royal University is giving students a new way to learn about the world around them.

Along with checking out books, students can sign out a speaker at the university’s “Living Library” for a 15-minute one-on-one discussion.

The speakers, who also are being called “human books,” include a student who survived the Rwandan genocide, a former gang member who now attends the school, and an Olympian who beat breast cancer.

Monique Verhoef, diversity and human rights co-ordinator at the university, said she’s seen “human books” work effectively at other educational institutions and public libraries around the world.

Dr. Patricia Pardo is one of the speakers, and will talk to students about her experience of losing her eyesight (she only has three percent functional vision).

Pardo said she hopes to dispel some of the misinformation about blindness and vision loss.

“Although I am partially-sighted and losing my eyesight, that that’s really only one part of who I am,” she noted.

“Our society continues to hold some fairly negative values, beliefs, and assumptions about blindness that contribute to the way in which people who are blind experience their community and society.”

Business student Kevin Padillo will talk to his peers about his experiences as a member of Calgary’s notorious FOB gang.

“You’re always being told what to do; you’re always going to be under someone unless you’re at the top,” he explained of what that life is like.

“Being in a gang, I realized that you have no autonomy,” Padillo noted.

“You may have all this power and respect but it’s not really respect, it’s fear,” he stressed.

Verhoef said the 10 speakers who will act as “human books” have powerful stories to tell.

“For those that get to listen to the stories, there’s that ability to have an empathetic human connection with someone else,” she reasoned.

“I think the best part is, they get the opportunity later to meet them in the hallway and feel like, ‘I’ve met you, I know you, we can build a relationship, we can continue to explore stories and explore our community.’”

Editor’s note: The Fort Frances Public Library has staged two ‘Living Library’ events the past two years.

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