Wemindji students raise money to finance trip to Nicaragua

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Nicaragua Teacher LeadersA group of Wemindji high-school students are fundraising to finance a trip to Nicaragua to help build schools and clinics in the Central American country.

The 18 students at Maquatua Eeyou School need to raise $90,000 to fund the trip. At one of the group’s fundraisers, Sec. 4 student Taryn Shasheweskum talked about the Cree people having been given so much as a direct result of the efforts of their own leaders.

“We are a strong and giving people,” said Shasheweskum. “We want to share with others less fortunate than ourselves. I’m excited about helping to build a school for youth who don’t have a beautiful place to learn, like we do.”

The students will fly from Montreal to Nicaragua July 7, 2014. Before that, MES student volunteers must maintain at least an 80% class attendance, excellent conduct and participation in every single class, and full roll-up-their-sleeves participation in the dozens of fundraising activities – including snow-shovelling, cooking take-out dinners, bagging and carrying groceries, beautifying the community, and all manner of service initiatives.

In addition, MES students are keeping journals and writing to teen pen pals in other parts of the world who’ve already volunteered in places as diverse as Kenya, Guatemala and Ecuador. In this way, MES students are learning pertinent details of trips already taken – and making new friends.

“This outstanding opportunity to adventure to Nicaragua combines both motivation and incentive for our students,” said Lee Ann Gilpin, a Community Education Administrator at MES “Like any group of people who make a difference in the world, our students have to first help themselves. They must be competent and successful. They must master the academic material set before them this year, and meet the group requirements. The reward is twofold – an academic year of excellence achieved, and a wonderful way of celebrating: by giving to others during a fabulous trip.”

2 girlsThe students and teachers Brandi Taylor, Shauna Simpson and Carmen Plank salute MES Principal Christi Lancaster, who supported the idea when they first pitched her their idea. It is no surprise though, that Lancaster would endorse such an experiential project.
Lancaster earned her Master of Education degree last year from the University of Ottawa. The core idea of her thesis paper, entitled “Indigenous Youth Activism in the Digital Age,” is that students learn best by empowered “particip-action,” in other words, by engaging in projects that involve them and have direct significance to them.

“Learning has to be meaningful or it won’t stick,” says Lancaster. “I am very proud of the superb educators at MES and their exciting approach to education. They have my full support.”

The idea for this trip was born several years ago, when Taylor reflected upon her volunteerism as a University of Toronto student.

“My mother and stepfather taught me early that my luck in life would come from the way I treated other people,” Taylor said. “True enough, by the time I returned from contributing my small part to build an orphanage for kids in Mexico, my life was changed. I wanted to pass on this opportunity, but knew I had to wait for the perfect colleagues, the most willing students with leadership qualities, and the best support, in order to begin.”

This year in Wemindji, Taylor’s magic recipe came together with the signing on of teachers Simpson and Plank. Recently, the group was thrilled to add two chaperones for male students: mechanics student Jeremy Matches, and the Director of Wemindji Sports Academy, Joel Brooks.

“We have gathered the best young student leaders to make a difference in Nicaragua,“ declared Simpson. While in Costa Rica, Simpson observed the stark contrast of the very rich and the very poor.

Perhaps this harsh reality served to hone her remarkable fundraising efforts in Wemindji.

“Typically generous, this community is quick to support educational opportunities,” said Simpson. “So far, the Wemindji Fundraising Committee has contributed $10,000 to assist MES students to help others.”

2 boysPlank, a strong advocate of empowered learning, also spoke about her volunteer work in Honduras. With only a shovel, Plank helped dig a hole for a septic tank for two weeks.

“Each day as it got deeper and wider, we got happier and happier. We knew that tank would be in service at that school long after we left,” Plank said, adding that this will be an intense bonding experience that MES students will forever cherish.

Last Saturday, the Nicaragua-bound secondary students raised $1000 at their spaghetti and Caesar salad take-out fundraiser. Sleeves were rolled high to chop onions, cook minced meat and prepare their best-ever Cree tomato sauce. Meanwhile, teachers Taylor, Simpson and Plank delivered 60 take-out orders throughout snowy Wemindji.

“It’s so exciting for us,” said Sec. 4 student Amanda Wadden. “We all run to see (Taylor) add a little more colour to the poster thermometer showing the money we’ve earned each week. It’s fantastic to see that red line rise!”

In addition to all of the academic and service requirements, each student is responsible to earn $250 spending money for the trip.

“I know we will do a good job,” said Sec. 4 student Amber-Lane Gull. “I’d love to make new friends in Nicaragua, and I know this trip is going to widen my world. When I come back in July, the greatest thing I want to be able to say to myself, and to my family, is that I helped to change the world.”

MES students encourage Nation readers to like their Facebook page, MES goes to Nicaragua. Donors will receive a personal letter of heartfelt thanks from students and a mention of honour on their website.



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