Building Movements, One Conversation at a Time
“Food is life.” Augusta Henriques was speaking passionately about agriculture and culture in her country of Guinea-Bissau. A few dozen heads were tilted forward, listening attentively. In the back of the room, one person listened as a neighbour whispered a translation of the West African French being spoken. This scene did not take place in a lecture hall, but in a neighbourhood restaurant in Montreal.
Since 2003, the University of the Streets Café creates gathering places for citizens to pursue lifelong learning and engage in public conversations. The Café is based on the belief that public exchange of ideas is integral to social change and building healthy and sustainable communities. Inspired by popular education, the program is an opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds to meet, learn together, and share ideas and experiences in a respectful environment.
As a long-time collaborator of the Café’s parent institution, Concordia University’s Institute for Community Development, Inter Pares contributes to making learning spaces accessible. Over the years, Inter Pares has helped subsidize the participation of those who would otherwise not be able to join in the Institute’s Summer Program, an event for civil society practitioners to learn, engage, and reflect on their work. On several occasions, Inter Pares has brought international colleagues to public conversations at the University of the Streets Café to share with Canadians their thoughts on pressing social issues. This evening was one such occasion.
Augusta is the secretary-general of Tiniguena, a Bissau-Guinean organization that promotes environmental conservation and citizen engagement. She was in Montreal to discuss community responses in her country to the food crisis that has affected people across the global South. But that evening, she shared her thoughts on the centrality of food to culture, and how Bissau-Guineans are defending both. There was a palpable energy as Augusta’s ideas led people to share their own experiences and thoughts about the role of healthy food in their community and culture.
Towards the end, there was so much interest that one person asked – “But what can we do to keep this conversation going?” Several people lingered afterwards to discuss how they could connect with national food advocacy efforts. The Café’s role is to start these conversations – it is up to each of us to carry them out into our communities, like seeds to be planted and nurtured.
To learn more about the University of the Streets Café and obtain its calendar of conversations, visit
|Reviewed February 02, 2009||Publishing Policies|