REC grads travel to Vienna for nuclear conference

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NORTH KILDONAN

Two River East Collegiate alumnae recently travelled to Vienna as part of their ongoing work towards nuclear disarmament.

In June, Rooj Ali and Sarah Rohleder travelled with Senator Marilou McPhedran to the First Meeting of States Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which took place June 21 to 23 in Vienna, Austria.

(From left) Tuva Krogh Widskjold, Rooj Ali, and Jaume Puigpinós presenting at a workshop on the ICan cities appeal in Vienna, Austria for the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in June.

“It was an amazing experience,” Rohleder said. “There were events focused on multiple perspectives from across the world, multiple disciplines, and the intersections with gender, climate change and other points.”

“I’m very grateful that I could go,” said Ali, who added that the Rotary Club of Winnipeg sponsored the cost of her trip. “To even be able to attend was, if you’d told me I’d be there three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

The pair, that graduated from River East Collegiate in 2022 and 2021, respectively, first got involved with nuclear disarmament in 2019, when they attended the Youth Nuclear Peace Summit, which was held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, both became involved with Reverse the Trend Canada, a grassroots youth group pushing for nuclear disarmament at the local, national, and international level. Their work with the group, and the connections they made along the way, led them to Vienna.

“It was a good opportunity to meet with other youth who are just coming into the nuclear disarmament world,” Rohleder said. “Moving forward, we’re still looking at networking more and strengthening those connections with Reverse the Trend.”

Along with working for McPhedran during the First Meeting, Ali also took part in a workshop regarding the ICAN Cities Appeal. In 2021, Ali, along with fellow River East grad Avinashpall Singh, successfully lobbied Winnipeg city council officially to endorse the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In Vienna, she presented alongside fellow youth activists Tuva Krogh Widskjold and Jaume Puigpinós.

“We talked about getting cities involved, why it’s important. I spoke about how Canada’s presence is crucial, it needs to happen,” Ali said. “I’d like to say it was a success. It was optimistic, refreshing. It wasn’t this doomsday talk.”

Along with making invaluable international contacts, Ali said she was inspired by the experience itself.

“It was powerful and surreal to be present when these huge discussions are taking place,” she said. “Working on the local level is one thing, but to be present when countries are sitting down and discussing these issues, these big moments in history, it was surreal for me. I’m so incredibly grateful to have been able to take part.”

Both Rohleder and Ali plan to continue their advocacy work.

(From left) Sarah Rohleder, Senator Marilou McPhedran, and Rooj Ali in Vienna, Austria for the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in June.

Rohleder, who will continue her studies at the University of British Columbia in the fall, has begun working on a webinar series to educate Canadians young and old about nuclear weapons.

“This was something I was thinking about during the week, how little Canadians know about nuclear weapons, and the different stigmas around the movement,” she said.

Among other initiatives, Ali, who will attend the University of Toronto in the fall, is working on a “how-to” guide for young activists.

“This is hard work, but it’s not work you’re doing alone,” she said. “It is a team effort.”

For more information, visit www.rttreversingthetrend.com

Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community Journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at sheldon.birnie@canstarnews.com Call him at 204-697-7112

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