Crossing ‘Borders’ for global understanding

Adela Talbot // Western NewsAndrew Botterell, the Chair of Western’s Department of Philosophy, who holds a joint appointment with the Faculty of Law, recently returned from Ethiopia, having taught jurisprudence at Bahir Dar University through a volunteer program with Academics Without Borders.

Andrew Botterell couldn’t ignore the email. When a note from Academics Without Borders (AWB) popped up in his inbox, requesting curriculum support for Bahir Dar University’s law school in Ethiopia, it might as well have addressed him directly.

Botterell, who is the Chair of Western’s Department of Philosophy, and holds a joint appointment with the Faculty of Law, has adopted two children from Ethiopia. With a connection to the country and the skills to answer Bahir Dar’s need, he saw an opportunity to give back. It just happened to be during a time of political tension in the country.

“The proposal (from AWB) was to have someone visit their law school and teach a course on advanced jurisprudence, or the philosophy of law. Bahir Dar wants to create a new PhD program in law but, to do that, they need people who can supervise PhD students,” Botterell explained.

“As I was getting ready to travel in February, the Ethiopian Prime Minister (Hailemariam Desalegn) resigned. The Minister of Defence declared a state of emergency in the country. There had been a lot of protests against the government, and while this was the first voluntary handing over of power in Ethiopia, the understanding is he was going to get pushed out, anyway,” he continued.

“There was never any question when (Stephen) Harper lost the election that he was going to step aside gracefully and say all the right things – that is not something you can take for granted in Ethiopia. When we talk about the rule of law here, everyone has a sense of what that looks like and there’s never any question that, by and large, Canadian society operates on a rule of law and we have a duty to obey the law. In Ethiopia, it is more of an open question – whether they are governed by the rule of law at all.”

The current political climate in Ethiopia, within a greater context of a divided federal state with a history of revolutionary coups over three regimes in eight decades, set the tone for an engaging experience at Bahir Dar, Botterell noted. During three weeks in February, he taught a compressed graduate course to a handful of students who were well-versed in jurisprudence. Part of the course was on traditional issues of jurisprudence – the relationship between law and morality, the rule of law and the duty to obey the law.

“They had very interesting things to say about that because their experience with the legal regime is very different from our experience. They are educated students. Many of them had thought pretty hard about what democracy means. It was clear, I thought, what they want are democratic institutions. They want to feel as if they have a stake in the future of the country – and it’s not clear they do,” Botterell said.

The fit and timing of this opportunity couldn’t have been better, he added. Botterell is the first individual from Western to volunteer with AWB, a network of 19 Canadian universities operating collectively with a mission to assist universities in developing countries, particularly in the global south, to train experts and contribute to capacity building locally. Western joined the network a year ago.

“Volunteer opportunities come up periodically; projects are proposed by universities in the global south or in developing countries. They express a need for a particular kind of class or curriculum development initiative and they reach out to the network,” said Amanda Grzyb, a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Chair of Western’s AWB committee.

There are opportunities for contract and full-time faculty members, as well as administrative staff, she added. AWB covers all of the costs and there are two ways to volunteer.

“Faculty and staff can answer a call for volunteers but there are also calls for proposals. Faculty members who are exploring relationships with universities in developing countries, or have existing relationships with those universities, they can work to put together proposals for curriculum assistance or assistance with getting programs off the ground,” she explained.

The opportunities with AWB fall in line with Western’s international mission, Grzyb added. Because the commitment could be a few months’ time, ideal volunteers are faculty and staff members who are on sabbatical or administrative leave, or have recently retired. Anyone can volunteer, however, with support from AWB and Western International.

“I hope to travel (to Ethiopia) again, on a regular basis – to set up a stable relationship with Western Law. Maybe there will be opportunities for students to go there, or their students to come here to study for a term,” Botterell explained.

“For students who are interested in changing the world, or just asking why things are the way they are, I think it’s useful to reflect on other places. And to the extent to which internationalization is important here, here’s one way to participate and contribute. There are excellent opportunities with AWB.”

GET INVOLVED. For more information on how to participate with Academics Without Borders (AWB), contact Information and Media Studies professor Amanda Grzyb, who chairs Western’s AWB committee, at