By Tina Comeau
This week a group of 22 students from various high schools in Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby counties will embark on a unique experience that organizers expect will have a profound and lasting impact on their lives.
The students and their chaperones leave for Kenya on March 8 as part of the Me to We initiative in conjunction with Free the Children, which is the world’s largest network of children helping children. This group has earned the Children’s Nobel Peace Prize and human rights awards.
During their trip the students will help to build a school, take Swahili lessons, go on a safari, visit a giraffe rehabilitation centre and visit a local village to help carry water from the river – a trek that is hours long.
Having local students participate in the Me to We experience is something that Tri-County Regional School Board Member Andrea Huskilson-Newell pitched to the school board in 2010. In September of that year she and Steve Stoddard, the board’s director of operations, made presentations about the program to all Grade 10 students within the board.
Students who signed up to take part spent their Grade 10 year fundraising, both collectively and individually, for the trip. At a recent school board meeting Huskilson-Newell informed the board the group had raised around $94,000. They accomplished this through a variety of fundraisers, some of which included a dinner and auction, a Christmas gift card campaign, potluck dinners, a loose change month, cupcake and frozen yogurt sales and raffle ticket sales.
Now in Grade 11, these students will travel to Africa this month. Because this is a three-year program, during their Grade 12 year they will do presentations at schools and with community groups about their experience and the importance of education throughout the world.
“Education provides the highest return of any social investment in the developing world. Worldwide there are 121 million primary-aged children who aren’t in school. Without access to an education, these children remain voiceless and the cycle of poverty continues,” says Huskilson-Newell. “Tri-County students are going to build a school which will empower children and entire communities to break the cycle of poverty for future generations.”
Two students from Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School who are making the trip are Emily Hickey and Sarah Olsen.
Olsen was inspired to take part after hearing about the experiences that await students, and also because she had seen her Grampie go to Haiti and had been moved by his stories.
“I’ve heard of other people going on these kinds of trips and it was just inspiring for me to go, it’s something that I always wanted to do and I never thought I’d get the chance until after university. When I heard the presentation in Grade 10 it is just something that interested me right away,” she says. “I’m looking forward to experiencing it myself, instead of just hearing about it from other people.”
When she was younger, Hickey had sponsored a child from Africa so to be able to go there in person to help other children is something that really appeals to her.
“I like to help people and so I was just really excited to actually go there and see the culture and to help others,” she says.
Olsen adds that she and the other students going on the trip hope that upon hearing about their experiences, others in this region will feel inspired to help those who are less fortunate.