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Community & Alumni Blog

Award winner enjoys research-action-reflection cycle of international development

On Saturday, September 24, CMU President Cheryl Pauls will present one of four Distinguished Alumni Awards to Adrienne Wiebe (MBBC 1976-78) as part of CMU's 2016 Fall Festival events. We spoke with Adrienne recently about her life and work.

When Adrienne Wiebe recalls her time at Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC), learning to think critically – and rooting that critical thinking in faith – sticks out.

“I learned that God wants shalom for the world, and that we as Christians are part of participating and building towards that,” Wiebe says. “That set the groundwork for how I approach life.”

Wiebe, who holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Alberta, has sought to participate in building toward shalom via a career in international development.

Following college, Wiebe travelled in South America for nine months. After falling in love with Latin America, she returned to her native Edmonton to do a Master’s degree in Geography. A year of fieldwork in Ecuador followed.

After returning to Edmonton, Wiebe worked for several years with Central American refugees at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. In the meantime, she married Arturo Avila, a Chilean political refugee living in Edmonton, and they had two children.

From 1992 to 1996, their family lived in a Mayan village in the highlands of Guatemala, where Wiebe and Avila did community development work with a small Canadian NGO.

Wiebe’s experience in Guatemala stands out as a career highlight.

“It was really mind-opening,” she says, adding that initially, she went to Guatemala with the idea that she was going to help the people there. She soon realized that the community had been there for hundreds of years, and she was “just a blip” in its history. “Then I got really curious about the history of the community and the nature of the community, so out of that grew the PhD research I eventually did.”

Wiebe did her PhD from 1997 to 2002, with many research trips back to Guatemala, and worked part-time in a hospital as the multicultural services coordinator. This was followed by seven years spent working full-time in research and program development with Indigenous communities for Alberta Health Services.

From 2010 to 2013, Wiebe and Avila served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Mexico, where Wiebe worked as a policy analyst and educator for Latin America.

Upon returning to Canada, Wiebe spent two-and-a-half years working as a provincial thrift shop coordinator for MCC Alberta.

This past March, Wiebe took on a one-year assignment in Ottawa with Oxfam Canada. At Oxfam, Wiebe works on evaluation and learning related to the organization’s global programs and campaigns on ending violence against women and girls around the world.

“I like the interaction between being an activist in some sense, and working with people and communities to understand what’s going on and how we can make things better, and then learning from that – reflecting on that experience, increasing our knowledge and awareness... taking that new knowledge and putting it into practice again,” she says. “I enjoy that research-action-reflection cycle.”

Wiebe says she feels honoured and humbled to be receiving a CMU Distinguished Alumni Award, adding that she sees her upcoming visit to Winnipeg as a great opportunity to reconnect with her alma mater.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going on at CMU today.”