From Nunavik to Ecuador: a learning odyssey
“They adapted well”
During a visit to a women’s group in the highlands of Ecuador, indigenous Quechua women watch with interest as teenaged girls visiting from Nunavik show them how to crochet a traditional tasselled nassak, or hat.
Later, the teens try their hand at weaving the hooded ponchos traditionally worn in the cool mountains of Ecuador.
These are just two of the many cultural exchanges and learning experiences which took place last month when 10 high school students, aged 15 to 17, from Kuujjuaq’s Jaanimmarik School spent two weeks in Ecuador.
The trip also was full of new experiences. The students helped build a school, viewed new sights like towering volcanoes, and even savoured new tastes, such as the traditional Andean specialty, locro, a dish of corn and potatoes, topped with a spicy cheese sauce.
They also enjoyed the surprisingly tasty mix of rice and guinea pig.
They made the 12-day trip with backing from Nunavik Youth Employment Service, a new agency within the Kativik Regional Government’s sustainable employment department, along with support from the Ungaluk Safer Communities and Brighter Futures programs, First Air and local businesses.
The trip also included 24 weeks of activities before the trip and a two-week follow-up afterward.
Before the students even left Nunavik, they worked on a series of research projects on Ecuador. And they signed a contract certifying their long-term commitment to attend school and work hard.
The underlying theme of their entire trip to Ecuador: education.
The trip, which kicked off in Montreal with visits to John Abbott College and Collège Marie Victorin, first took the students to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, with a population of more than two million and, at 2,850 metres, the highest capital city in the world.
In Ecuador, on a tour organized by “Me to We,” the students learned about Free The Children and its Adopt-A-Village model. That program tries to break the cycle of poverty and achieve long-term community development through projects that provide education, health care services, alternative income projects, safe drinking water and sanitation systems — all of which many youth in Nunavik take for granted.
But in Ecuador, education isn’t a given. Children are officially required to attend school until the age of 14, but a high proportion of children drop out of school to work.
In Ecuador, the students headed into the Chimborazo region of Ecuador to see Cruz Del Arenal, one of Free the Children’s oldest schools, which is located 4,000 metres above sea level, where they saw how the local, windowless traditional houses conserve warmth.
“They are all cement walls, and no windows,” recalls Nancy Watt in an interview shortly after her return.
As part of their hands-on educational experience, the students grabbed trowels and shovels in the community of San Miguel to help build a school. The construction work wasn’t easy, says Jeremy Davies. Slapping cement on the bricks was tricky.
Sometimes they took time off to play duck duck goose (pato pato ganzo) or soccer with the local kids.
“And when we were playing soccer with the kids, they were always smiling and playing — with their boots on,” Davies remembers.
The students took part in personal development workshops on the importance of education and academic success, and other issues like stress management, communication, and team work.
The trip demanded that the students deal with a change of climate, the stress of living at a high altitude and lifestyle differences such as no Internet access, but they were “great about it,” coordinator Alexandre Veillette said.
And the trip met its goal of helping youth “reflect on their life and get confidence,” he said.
That was highlighted when many participants performed and spoke in front of their indigenous Ecuadorian hosts during a farewell gathering.
“They adapted well,” Veillette said.
The teens who visited Ecuador are Raven Gordon, Alexandre Gagné-Imbault, Jeremy Davies, Leanna Angnatuk, Lukassi Whiteley-Tukkiapik, Nancy Watt, Lucina Gordon, Stephanie Buchmeier, Pamela Stevenson and Micheal Petagumskum.
With them were coordinator Veillette, chaperone and parent Louisa Whiteley, chaperone Frederic Geertsen, and filmmaker Collin Tourangeau.