by Pam Chamberlain
Richard Bruneau’s desire to make a difference has taken him around the world and brought him home again. His efforts to make the world a better place have evolved as a result of his commitment to lifelong learning.
Richard (BSc Math/Physics ’99) grew up in Camrose, so Augustana was the logical choice when it came time to pursue post-secondary studies. In his fourth year, Richard participated in the Rural Development Exchange Program in Mexico, and it changed the course of his life. He learned about the complexities of development work and issues of social justice, and these fostered his desire to improve people’s lives.
Richard added a minor in rural and community development to his degree and, after graduation, he worked with Canada World Youth in Bolivia, Uruguay, Guatemala, and Western Canada. While working in Stettler and Mexico, he met his future wife, Kierstin Heiberg (BA English ’03), an Augustana graduate who grew up on a farm near Camrose.
Richard soon realized that although his work might impact individual people and local communities, addressing poverty and oppression required action at a macro level— changes in global systems and government policies. So Richard undertook a master’s degree in international affairs at Carleton University. During his program, he did internships and research projects in community-based natural resource management, space weapons security, criminal intelligence, and arms control.
Afterwards, Richard joined the Canadian Foreign Service as a diplomat with the Afghanistan Task Force in Ottawa and Kabul. His second placement was with the Arms Control Division in Ottawa, which included some work at the UN in New York and Vienna. “One of the highlights of my career,” he recalls, “was addressing the United Nations on behalf of Canada, pushing for better regulation of the international arms trade.”
On his next assignment, as Counsellor for Canadian-Palestinian political relations in the West Bank and Gaza, Richard lived in Jerusalem and dealt with everything from the peace process to human rights and trade. He describes the work and working conditions as “intense.” For example, wearing a flak jacket and helmet, he helped evacuate Canadian citizens from Gaza during shelling and air strikes.
After eight years in the Foreign Service, Richard was ready for a break from bureaucracy, and his wife was eager to pursue a long-held dream: he helped her take over her family farm. Richard says, “My wife had followed me around the world for a few years, and it was my turn to follow her back home.”
While Kierstin focuses on farming, Richard has returned to Augustana to teach sociology and is enrolled in the U of A’s B.Ed. after-degree program. He looks forward to teaching in the Camrose area.
“High school is formative,” he explains. “Teachers change the world by inspiring and empowering youth to understand the roles they can play in it.” He believes that his work overseas will benefit him and his students in the social studies classroom. He will also be a role model, living proof that a kid from rural Alberta can travel the world and make a difference.