Education and Cultural Barriers. Member Spotlight: Bonny Kaman Li

“The power of more is obviously bigger than the power of one, but someone has got to start. Sooner or later others will notice and agree with what we do, spread the word, and get more people to engage in effective communication – not just in professional careers but in day-to-day life. We all need that.”

From personal inspiration to a professional career

Bonny was born in Solomon Islands, South Pacific. Around the age of 9, she relocated to China, where she stayed for approximately 10 years, and then came to Canada to pursue studies in Political Science and Government at Wilfrid Laurier University. Bonny has a legal educational background with a specialty in Canadian immigration law and international dispute resolution and is currently a licensed Paralegal, a Mediator and Arbitrator, and a Notary Public. She has a passion for equity, social justice, advocacy, access to justice, and peacebuilding. She is also a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. Bonny volunteers at local community legal clinics where she provides free legal advice and information, as well as mediation services, to low-income families. Bonny also collaborates with non-profit organizations both nationally and internationally in delivering seminars on such topics as studying/working/living in Canada, employment rights, housing rights, human rights, refugee law, and more.

Since obtaining her paralegal license with the Law Society of Ontario in 2015, she helps people immigrating to Canada, mostly refugees or asylum seekers from around the world – especially those who suffer from torture or unusual persecution because of their gender, social status, or religion. “It is a personally inspired profession,” Bonny says. “I experienced two civil wars in my home country. After studying and realizing that a lot of the conflicts and wars could have been avoided if there was an ADR in place, which is not in the Solomon Islands.” She has not been able to go back but initiated some NGO projects to promote ADR in the Pacific Islands by teaching members of the community to know what ADR is and how to use mediation to de-escalate conflicts. “All so we do not have to see another civil war coming” she adds.

While searching for volunteer positions and opportunities to engage with the non-profit sector, Bonny discovered Mediators Beyond Borders International. After familiarizing herself with projects, and working groups, and finding out that a lot of that aligns with what she pursues and agrees with, she became a member in 2022.

Misinformation and language barrier

Speaking about challenges she faced in her career, Bonny brings up the lack of public education in the least educated countries, which then facilitates a lot of misinformation and leads for example to immigration fraud – people could become victims of scams. In response to that, Bonny started an anti immigration fraud project. She is translating common immigration or legal law into plain simple language, to address misconceptions and make the law accessible to everybody. “It is growing and I am very proud of it. I hope one day people are able to access information and make informed decisions” Bonny adds.

In terms of ADR, one of the biggest challenges is the language barrier. For example, there could be parties from China who does not speak good English, then there can be people from Ghana with very different cultural background. One thing one party does might be perceived in different ways by another, and it is challenging how to explain it so the conflict does not escalate. “What can we do is to invite a certified translator to translate what one party says, and help the other party understand that it is important to not make any implications of what the other party said,” Bonny says. “What I am proud of with the ADR profession is the ADR Pacific Project that I initiated – I am trying hard to bring what I have learned in Canada, and what I experienced both professionally and personally, to back up my own country, hopefully also neighboring countries. I do not want to see another war breaking out just because of misunderstanding or miscommunication, especially with actions for climate change being one of the top priorities, it is important that people have the skill sets required to conduct a meaningful and effective conversation” she summarizes.

Theory vs Experience

In terms of cultural differences, Bonny says that being exposed to a different country is the best way of learning a culture. Through the ADR career, she found out that the majority of conflicts arise from cultural differences, misunderstandings, or miscommunication. “No matter how much we try to promote other cultures or cultural studies, without having the participants experience it, I do not think it is going to be as effective as it would have been in person,she says and brings up the first time she visited China – she heard something about the country and culture, but it is very different when she actually got there. For example, there was a problem of racism. We all know what racism is, but an ordinary person would never be expected to be discriminated against by fellow citizens. But the first thing that Bonny experienced when in China was very cruel discrimination not because of her race, but because of her inability of speaking the language fluently. “It was kind of a wake-up call that we have to do something,” she says. Bonny is also helping students to obtain a study permit and come for an exchange to Canada, and it is visible how students change. Everybody heard about Canada, but it is not until they experience this diverse culture, that they know how important it is to appreciate other’s culture, and not be offended when someone says something they did not mean.  It is a constant study to learn about cultures and countries.

Bonny is teaching ADR courses to people all over the world, coming from different cultures. Having been exposed to different cultures helps a lot, but many of these people do not have a chance to experience it. She is constantly looking for new ways to make her classes more engaging and answer the question – how are you going to accomplish being culturally sensitive when you have never visited the other country and only know it from the books?

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer