Student rallies for change

When Michelle Thompson first arrived at the University of Saskatchewan, the on-campus Oxfam Club was more-or-less on life support. Membership: 1.

By Mark Ferguson

Fast forward two-and-a-half years and, thanks in large part to Thompson's work and long-standing passion for grassroots activism, membership for the club is hovering around 50. In all likelihood, Oxfam's presence at the U of S has never been stronger.

Oxfam—an international confederation with a presence in 98 countries worldwide—works to develop sustainable solutions to end poverty and injustice. Thompson's work with the campus's Oxfam club is but one example of the many organizations she has become immersed in during her time in the College of Arts & Science. Somehow, in between her studies, she is also involved in the Saskatoon Womens' Movement, Saskatoon Womens' Community Coalition, the Childrens' Museum of Saskatchewan and Transitions Saskatoon, an organization that advocates for environmentally sustainable local practices. And in addition to her leadership role with the U ofS Oxfam club, she is involved in the Oxfam Saskatoon and a member of the Oxfam Prairie Region steering committee.

So, how does she find the time?

"Good question," she said with a laugh, after pondering the question a moment. "Prioritizing is the key. At times activism is really important in my life, and at other times my papers and classes have to take precedence. So the priorities shift, but there is always something on my plate."

Thompson left Saskatoon in August to study for one year abroad at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. She will, however, be returning to the U of S in the fall of 2012 to complete her Four-Year Honours degree in Women's & Gender Studies and Four-Year Advanced Certificate in Modern Languages (German & Spanish).

While some might be apprehensive leaving home for a year to study abroad, travelling overseas is nothing new for Thompson. After high school, she turned what was meant to be a "short working holiday" into a "three-year travelling extravaganza," during which time she first became involved in Oxfam.

It was while working in Scotland that she began volunteering at an Oxfam Reuse Store, and from that point on her affinity for the organization continued to grow. Upon returning home she applied for and received a four-month internship at Oxfam Canada, where one of her last jobs was to revive the organization's club at the U of S campus.

"I spent a lot of time on campus trying to recruit new members and get the club going again. Then when I started school, I basically took over leading it," she said. "When I started our campaign was focused on womens' rights and climate change, so I did a lot of work around that. They've now launched a new campaign incorporating food security, so it's an organization that really touches on a lot of important issues."

And while Thompson isn't quite sure yet what she'll pursue upon finishing her undergraduate education, she's excited to meet yet another challenge head on.

"The non-profit sector is really appealing to me, so I might look for some kind of employment there. And I'm really considering doing a Masters program too. It's kind of far off still so we'll see what happens, but whatever that happens to be I'm looking forward to it."