The Shawshank redemption: a reflection on human freedom

the-shawshank-redemption-movie-poster-1994-1020260139Last Saturday night, I decided to watch the Shawshank redemption, as it was voted in the Internet Movie Database the best movie of all times. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy the violent scenes of the movie, but the lesson on human freedom it had truly amazed me.

I’ve taken film courses at my school, and many times I wondered what was I doing sitting down in a classroom while I watched a film. It was something I could do in my own house. But what the teacher wanted us to learn is that films aren’t meant to entertain the public, but to show the consequences of human actions so we can learn from them.

As the classes went by, I also learned that only by watching films and researching about them, I would have a critical view.

After watching the movie and discussing it with a close friend, I reflected on each character.

While in prison, Andy, who is the main character, suffered from harassment, injustice and abuse. Prisoners were treated as savages: the police officers hit them, they killed the ones who complained about their life conditions, and they swore all the time.


Meanwhile, Andy met his best friend Red. He introduces Andy to other people.Later on, they would build a library for the prisoners.

It’s not until the end of the movie when the viewer realizes Andy had been planning his escapement from prison all that time.

I’ll limit my analysis to three characters of the movie: Andy (of course), Brooks Hatlen and the Warden.

Despite all the terrible circumstances Andy had to live, he learned it was better to “get busy living” than to “get busy dying.” He suffered and he worked hard. But he also used the knowledge he had learned throughout his career and past life to help the prisoners: he taught them how to read and write, he encouraged them to respect each other. He opened a library for the prison. And finally, he found a way to spend all the spare time he had to plan his “redemption.”

1573_4Brooks Hatlen had spent most of his life working in a prison. What really surprised me about this character is that he was the first one to get out from prison, and ended up hating his life.The movie portraits pretty well how society treats old people nowadays. It’s touching how he writes the letter about what he thinks of the world, and how he feels treated : “the world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.” I felt so sad when he killed himself. It made me wonder, was this character truly free, even if he left the prison? Was he able to value who he was in relation to the world?

sh3_largeThe Warden was an interesting character. He said he believed in two things: the discipline and the Bible. As the public watches the film, they realize this character is incoherent. He supported the violence in the prison. He ordered police officers to kill prisoners and hit them brutally. Despite the fact he has an important position in the prison, he abuses his power to get money and mistreat the prisoners. He hates the truth. And finally, when he’s about to face the consequences of all his actions, he commits suicide. How did he use his freedom?

There’s no place like home for the Holidays


Christmas lights in Maracaibo. Retrieved

People always talk about Christmas as a season to be grateful, spend time with their family, and eat a lot. But being away from home during this time of the year makes it harder to enjoy it.

Last year all my family and I wanted to tune our favorite radio stations back home. We tried to prepare all the Venezuelan food we knew (which honestly, wasn’t much) ,and Skype our family in Venezuela. It was our first Christmas away from the country.

The food didn’t go as well as we wanted it. My family in Venezuela was celebrating their own party. We felt more melancholic to be back home than ever.

While I was listening to the radio, I heard the song of the Carpenters called “There is no place like home for the Holidays.” They’re pretty right when they sing that. Celebrating Christmas back home is like celebrating it nowhere else.

We have a tradition called “aguinaldo” masses, where many of us got up at 4 or 5 am every morning and went to daily mass just to prepare ourselves for the Christmas day. The noise of the fireworks in the middle of the night woke us up to go to mass. After that, we all had a wonderful Venezuelan breakfast with our traditional “pastelitos” and empanadas. In Maracaibo, the government turns on the Christmas lights in all the city during November, and families start listening to Venezuelan Christmas songs one month before December.

If we went to a mission trip with our high schools, we would volunteer to give presents to the poor or clean a church. We had the traditional Christmas music with African drums, guitars, el cuatro, the maracas. It woke us up even more. All we wanted to do when we heard that music in the middle of the mass was to dance.


Christmas lights in Caracas. Retrieved from

Probably this is just one of the many traditions that show the rhythm of life in Latin America is quick and precipitated. Unlike North America, many people wake up early in the morning, at about 5 or 6 am, even during the Holidays. They work. It feels time flies when everything you have to do is quick, and you have your time counted.

Many people in North America rest a little bit more and enjoy every American Christmas song played on the radio. Many of them like to go out to shops and crowd the malls. When people are supposed to relax and get together, they stress out because of small things, like doing their hair, or buying every gift for their friends. Students try to finish all their exams, and some of us have to spend a lot of hours from one airport to the other.

But once Christmas day arrives, people settle down. Some of us stay home all day long. Some of us go to Church, or watch movies and eat all day long. But really, what is Christmas supposed to be? Are we celebrating these Holidays as we’re supposed to celebrate them?

I guess I’ll leave that answer to each one of the readers.

I wish you all Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Becoming a “musungu”

STU student Natalie Ortiz volunteered in Ruanda during the summer.

STU student Natalie Ortiz volunteered in Ruanda during the summer.

“What do you mean you’re going to Africa? Couldn’t you go to Europe?”

“I really prefer going to Africa.”

Natalie Ortiz was in high school in her native Ecuador when she heard about World Youth International Exchange, an organization dedicated to promote student volunteering worldwide.

She wanted to have a one-year exchange experience after finishing her high school.

“Why didn’t you pick another place? I don’t think it’s a good idea!”

It was the first time Ortiz would travel, a middle-class family student from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.

She’d always been interested in African culture. The country selected for Ortiz, now in her third year at Saint Thomas, turned out to be Uganda, one the poorest nations in the world, and under constant threat of violence from an Al-Shabaab affiliate group.

After thinking about it for several days, her father made a final decision.

“If that’s what makes you happy, I will support you.”

Uganda is known as one of the poorest nations in the world. 33 per cent of the population lives with a daily income less than $1.25 per day, and 85 per cent live in rural areas.

One of Ortiz' students

One of Ortiz’ students

“When I arrived to the airport, it was the worst airport I’ve ever been,” she said. “Everything was so dark, there was people lying down all over the place, and I felt so lost.”

The next day she began to live with her host family.

“I was really impressed the way the first host family lived,” she said.

The house didn’t have tiles on the floor. Her first room was full of chickens, and she had to move to another one and sleep with other members of the family.

They didn’t have any water. The only dish she would eat every day was rice and beans.

She would go to elementary schools to help the teachers educate the children.

She also helped the kids she saw in the streets to learn basic English, prepare food for the orphanage, play soccer, and teach them songs.

“It was difficult for me to go to the schools,” she said.

Natalie and her first classroom

Natalie and her first classroom

She saw the teachers hurting the students with a stick every time they made a mistake. She said teachers would expect them to read and write at the age of four.

It was part of their culture to treat children that way.

Despite this situation, she learned important lessons for her life from these children.

“They were so nice with me and they’d share food, even though they didn’t have enough.”

She said African people would smile to her despite the miserable conditions in which they lived.

Sometimes she would walk on the streets and people would yell at her “musungu,” which means white person.

“I would be the first white person they’d seen, and because of that, they felt inferior to me when I talked to them.”

While she was finishing high school, she met the international recruiter from STU.

She to study in Canada, and while she was in Uganda, St. Thomas University sent her an email offering her the highest scholarship of all the schools for which she applied.

When Ortiz came to Canada, she experienced a cultural shock.

“It was difficult to come to such a small place where there are not many things to do,” she  said. “This is more like a utopian country.’’

She sits in the cafeteria, inclining her eyes towards her hands. With her calm voice she says, “I experienced the difference between seeing poverty and actually living with it.”

Does faith matter nowadays?


St. Thomas students are challenging faith and seeking the meaning of life through the Alpha course.

“To go there and think they’re not going to judge me and be welcomed creates a bond communion,” said Raissa Musoni, a third year student. “They give you an outlook of life.”

Campus Alpha is a group that started up in January, and meets once a week for approximately eight weeks. People gather to eat free dinner, watch a video, then hold a discussion related to faith, the meaning of life, who is Jesus and more.

The courses take place every Monday at 6 p.m. in the STU chapel.

Jennifer Hanson, the leader of STU’s Campus Alpha chapter, wanted to create a place where students could come and ask their questions without being judged. She also wanted to help break down stereotypes students may apply to Christians.

Hanson first started attending the course when she married her husband. She said she didn’t understand many things related to Christianity and had a lot of unanswered questions.

“I had an amazing experience, and I learned so much,” she said. “I really loved the videos and the non-judgmental atmosphere of Alpha.”

UNB student Jessey Ariel likes attending the Alpha sessions because they appeal to his personality.

People of different religions and backgrounds gather to discuss religion and faith. Retrieved from


“I really try to make room to share God’s word with Christians and open discussions with non-believers,” he said. “It is important to me as I can share with Christian friends the struggles we go through with our faith and learn from each other.”

Ariel believes it’s important to have these interactive sessions on university campuses. He said it’s a space for non-believers to challenge what believers think and in that way learn more about Christianity.

Alpha courses take place on campuses across Canada and worldwide.

“I believe people come because they have a yearning to discuss life and faith,” said Hanson.

All ages and faiths are welcomed. It’s also free.

Hanson said Alpha is a great opportunity to meet people through small group discussions.

“There’s a great camaraderie and fellowship that has developed amongst the participants,” said Hanson.

Musoni really values having Alpha on St. Thomas campus because of the experience it gives her.

“What you get out of Alpha is much more important for me than what you get out from classes,” she said. “This is the thing that’ll prepare me to face the bad and the good moments in my life.”

A different New Year’s Eve

Chinese New Year’s day celebration. Retrieved from

Chinese New Year can be a bittersweet time for international students in Fredericton.

“It feels lonely to celebrate here,” said Ran Bi, a second-year Chinese student at St. Thomas University, “because the people you love the most – parents – are not here, but surrounded by friends makes me feel better.”

Bright colors, firework noises, red clothes and packed restaurants fill Chinese towns during the New Year celebration. In Fredericton, the Chinese community has prepared dinners, gatherings and performances to celebrate New Year’s Eve on Jan. 31.

“New Year’s Eve is the most important festival in China and for Chinese people,” said Martin XuanYu, vice president of the Chinese association at UNB.

“In Fredericton I don’t feel so lonely because here are many Chinese people around, but no affection between family members.”

Getting rid of bad fortune and beginning a new year represents an important step for Chinese people.

“If a new year has come, everything is going to be reborn at a new start point. Like many flowers will reopen in the next spring, we will forget the sadness and stress.”

XuanYu recalls making animal and flower paper shapes with his family and putting them on the window to attract happiness, good fortune, wealth and longevity.

Parents give their children money in red pockets as a gift for the upcoming year.

Wild beast Nien (“year”) brings fire lights, music and the New Year festivities to the Chinese people.

Children use red clothes, families decorate their homes with red ornaments and light fireworks to scare the monster.

Chinese food for New Year’s day. Retrieved from

“People don’t want the monster to eat their pets or take their children away,” said XuanYu, “that’s why we wear red as a tradition.”

XuanYu will perform a traditional Chinese dance to music while wearing dragon and Chinese lion costumes.

The performance will take place in the Centre Communautaire Sainte-Anne in Fredericton on Feb. 2. It’s open to all.

“We believe that day is the first day of the spring,” said Ran Bi, “and it means to get rid of bad luck and expect good fortune.”

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a 15-day celebration. It’s the most important holiday for Chinese people. Each day has different traditions, food and festivities.

The Chinese calendar sets the dates based on the weather, lunar phases and ancestors’ tradition. Different to the Western calendar, Chinese New Year dates vary from year to year. The 12 zodiacal animals mark different characteristics and fortunes for each year.

New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important food of the year. Each family gathers to eat traditional Chinese food such as chicken, duck, and Eight Treasures rice. Traditionally, families ate long noodles to symbolize long living. Dumplings were shared as a way to manifest unity and warmth among family members.

Ran Bi has celebrated New Year’s Eve with the Chinese community in Fredericton and Vancouver. Families gather to watch special Chinese TV shows with traditional music and eat dumplings together.

“Every New Year I spend in my home is my favourite,” she said, “but it’s been five years since the last time I was there. Having the opportunity to meet the Chinese community here and help each other has been important for each one of us.

The inspiring story of Meghan Palmer

Meghan Palmer. Retrieved from

Every day Meghann Palmer takes more than 40 pills to treat her lungs and clean her stomach. She exercises every day and eats every two hours to maintain her weight.

To breathe normally, the social work graduate from St. Thomas repeats the treatments throughout the day.

Cystic fibrosis is a complex disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. It’s fatal and has no cure.

Palmer has an average of seven to eight hospitalizations a year, but the doctors who have been treating her told her there’s not much they could do with her CF at this point. It’s time for her to get a double lung transplant to live longer.

“No one knows when they are getting the surgery,” she said. “Someone has to die for you to live and that can’t be predicted.”

A couple of friends suggested the idea of creating a website to raise money while she lives in Toronto and waits for the surgery through

All the money will go first to a bank account until she goes to Toronto and has her assessment period.

The first time she opened the website she raised $1,000.

“Things in social media go so quickly,” she said. “It’s going pretty well. I thought it would be a great tool to use to raise money.”

Palmer was diagnosed with CF when she was born and has always struggled with the disease.

Between taking care of herself and raising money, dealing with time has been one of the biggest challenges she’s ever had.

“I started working at Tim Horton’s part time to see how I could deal with it,” she said. “But I haven’t be able to pursue for sure the way I have wanted to.”

Once she graduated from STU, she had to take a year off because she had pneumonia. She always hoped she could recover.

One of her main goals is to be able to work as a social worker.

“I’m still hoping there’s a chance I could work,” said Palmer, who turned 30 in January. “I want to experience so many things.”

Doctors only perform lung transplants in Toronto. She’d have to live there while she waits for an organ donation and finishes her treatment.

“I will have to move and wait when my lung function is low enough for new lungs.”

She says her motivation to keep living and to work is her family and her fiancé, Jonathan Walker.

Walker has supported her in all her choices and with her lung treatment.

“He is helping me by being very supportive of my choices and helping me with my lung treatments.”

She hopes she will be able to marry him soon.

Once her treatment in Toronto ends, she wants to run a half marathon and obtain a master’s degree.

“I’m going to keep fighting and I’m not going to stop.”

The value of diplomacy

St. Thomas University students at the Model of United Nations in Boston. Retrieved from

Last year St. Thomas students travelled to Boston to participate in the Harvard National Model of United Nations conference.

“It gave me a chance to challenge myself,” said third-year student Arianne Melara. “Throughout the course, the professor always reminded us to be diplomatic, but I didn’t really realize how important it is to be diplomatic until I went there.”

The students were challenged to make working papers and resolutions.

Fourth-year student Amanda Poitras represented Ireland in the International Security and Disarming Committee.

“When you are surrounded by 280 people, everyone thinks their ideas are the best,” said Poitras. “That’s why it takes so long to come up with solutions where everyone would agree.”

Her group focused on civil war and border security.

Poitras said everyone had many good points to talk about, but it took a lot of cooperation to work together.

Even after working 10 hours per day for four days, they still couldn’t reach a consensus.

Poitras also learned how important political networking is when creating solutions in the United Nations. She said besides discussing within the sessions, it’s important who you talk to outside of the lectures.

Melara represented Ireland in the special Political and Decolonization Committee. They discussed the issue of drug trafficking.

She never expected she would talk publicly in front of more than 200 people.

“It gave me the opportunity to hear what other people propose and to make different points in a specific period of time,” she said.

At the end of the conference, Melara’s committee also failed to give a solution to the problem because none of the delegates decided which resolution was the best.

Melara and Poitras said it was competitive. This led people to be more innovative and motivated everyone to participate.

“I feel I have a clear idea now how the United Nations framework works and how different countries make decisions,” said Melara.

She said it taught her to be patient when surrounded by people who came from other countries and had different ideas, backgrounds and personalities.

Melara also said it’s important to learn how to conduct herself inside and outside the sessions.

She said her committee mainly sought to make STU noticed.

“I don’t think we were as competitive as other schools,” said Melara. “We went there without expecting to win an award. We just wanted to get our voice heard and participate.”

Bursting the bubble

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela. Retrieved from Google images.

A student takes part in a protest against Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela. Retrieved from Google images.

People on the bus started shouting, “The president just died!”

I couldn’t believe it. I hoped I could return safely to my house. Everyone was leaving their homes and banging pots and pans while public transportation collapsed. It was announced on TV that classes would be suspended for a week.

On March 5, 2013, on the side of Caracas I lived, people were celebrating in the streets, throwing fireworks. On the other side, people were crying and preparing themselves to visit the body of the president.

Every time I walked inside the subway I saw people with red shirts, families taking their children to see the president and people playing songs to remember him. The people of Venezuela had lived with Hugo Chavez for more than a decade. But with his death, I couldn’t help but worry about what would happen to the country and my family.

Ten years ago, I lived in Maracaibo, the second biggest city in Venezuela. Each Sunday, my family would gather to share the stories of the week in my grandmother’s house. We would all cook and watch movies, go to Mass together or visit the parks in the city.


Carabobo street in Maracaibo. Retrieved from Wikipedia.


But when I started doing charity work while in high school, I realized the middle class of my country lived in a bubble. I had never seen how poor people lived: naked children in the streets, lack of water and power in the houses, murders every day, dirty streets, rickety houses, schools without washrooms, broken windows in the schools, drug addiction rumours about young people everywhere.

When I moved to Caracas, I got another perspective on the country. I had never been in the capital, and that meant to live with a sunny but crisp weather, surrounded by mountains and beautiful people.

I would hike every weekend to el Avila,one of the mountains that surrounds Caracas’ valley. We enjoyed hearing the water flow and the birds sing. Each morning I would wake up and see the mountains surrounded by sun and blue sky. You could see the neighbourhoods of the rich in the city and the shacks of the poor on the hills.

Hugo Chavez had been successful in the military when he was imprisoned for trying to overthrow the democratically elected president. When he came back in the public eye, he founded the Socialist movement and was elected president in 1999.

He modified the constitution in order to be re-elected for another term. He nationalized most industries in the country in accord with the communist movement of Fidel Castro and organized missions to improve medical health care and literacy. He also gave prepaid food and housing to thousands of poor people.

Inflation rose while the opposition organized strikes in the largest cities and many families moved from the country to the city.

My father had to travel on the subway every day for more than two hours to arrive to the university where he worked. The subway was crowded due to the over population in Caracas.

Everyday thousands of Venezuelans take the subway in Caracas. Retrieved from

During the last 10 years, my family suffered robberies and threats by criminals. I couldn’t go out at night by myself, and I felt menaced at all hours of the day.

In my childhood in Maracaibo, we would all learn Venezuelan Christmas songs at school, and teachers taught us how to prepare hallacas, a mix of pork, beans, veggies or chicken covered by a cornmeal shell.

When I visited my family in Houston at Christmas, I met the Venezuelan community there. They sold Venezuelan Christmas food at extremely high prices and trashed the country for its disorganization and living conditions. Most of them talked as if Venezuela wasn’t their home anymore.

Typical Venezuelan Christmas dish. Retrieved from

Now I’m back sitting in the study hall of STU, hoping the situation in Venezuela will improve and trying to give the best of myself wherever I am.

If I am honest with myself, the country has been in a civil war. At least 20 people have been killed since student demonstrations started months ago, but sponsored gangs have been killing and kidnapping innocent citizens for years. We have the same number of dead people each day as if we were in a war.

Still, I search for hope and find it in people like my cousin. Before the protests started, I always believed he was one of those middle class boys who’d never get out of his bubble.

But since all this mobilization started, he’s the organizer of a student group that visits poor communities to promote justice in a non-political way.

It’s time for all of us to get out of our bubbles and search for solutions, not hate.

Building the future of Lilayi

Patricia Ellsworth in the middle with other volunteers. Retrieved from

STU graduate Patricia Ellsworth is raising money to help build a school for hundreds of Zambian children who can’t access education. She and other Canadian volunteers started a non-profit organization called Friends for Zambia, raising $800,000 for the project.

Ellsworth recently announced Canadian donors will sponsor 33 students, up from 23 last year, at the Twitti School that opens its doors for its third academic year in January. The school has plans to build a kitchen-lunchroom to feed the children and provide a lunch-time shelter for the rainy season with the funds raised.

She said it changed her life.

“It made me want to continue in education,” she said. “I loved the interplay with the students and arguing about points of grammar.”

Ellsworth first visited the Southern African nation when she graduated from STU with her husband in 1969. She wanted to experience what it was to be a teacher.

Children of the Twitti school. Retrieved from:

Children of the Twitti school. Retrieved from:

“It made me want to continue in education,” she said. “I loved the interplay with the students and arguing about points of grammar.”

After spending two years in Zambia, she came back to Canada, earned an Educations degree at UNB, and continued working as a teacher in the Oromocto high school.

“We went there thinking we would change the world,” she said. “Once you start working, you realize the only thing you can do is your own work.”

She retired 30 years later and received an award for excellence in teaching.

That same year, Simon Maonde, one of her coordinators in Africa, wrote a letter asking her for help to build the Twitti School.

“Simon Maonde was the headmaster,” she said. “From him I learned a great deal about what it was to be a teacher.”

She would go to catechism classes and collect money with the children of the community. she did bake sales and contacted people around Canada who could help her.

“The first to accept the idea was the parish council,” she said. “My approach was those grassroots.”

There are 6 million school-aged children in Zambia. The country only has 8,000 schools. More than a million children cannot access education, and 47 per cent who enroll in primary school never finish it.

The Twitti School opened in July 2012, in the village of Lilayi. 400 children go to classes there, from Kindergarten to Grade 7.

It has three buildings, a water well, a storage camp, a library, a basketball court, buses and administration offices.

They make emphasis on educating girls since they take a big role in furthering the Lilayi economy. They also help orphans who’ve been affected by HIV in their families.

Simon Maonde, the headmaster. Retrieved from:

Simon Maonde, the headmaster. Retrieved from:

Ellsworth believes the school is a key for the development of the community.

“Many of these children will become the leaders of this community,” she said. “They will become lawyers, doctors, teachers, mothers.”

She’s planning to host the annual Twitti School book sale at George Martin Middle School in May, 2015. The money raised will be sent to the school to be spent on the teachers’ needs.

“There’s something about Africa when you go once it never leaves you,” she said.