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Parrsboro High School helps to build a better future for Dominican.
By Kennedy Bowden-Welsh
A group of high school students this March Break traded in their bathing suits and sandals for hard hats and work boots as part of Free the Children and Me to We.
The high school in Parrsboro, N.S., a town of roughly thirteen thousand people, took part in a volunteer trip with Me to We, an organization that focuses on providing socially-responsible products and services. The organization was created by brothers, Marc and Craig Kielburger, from Ontario, who traveled to Ecuador to build a school more then a decade ago.
It was their own experience that inspired them to create the non-profit Me to We.
Kelsey Boone, a teacher for Parrsboro Regional High School, is the driving force behind the March trip. She also went on a volunteer trip when she was at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.
“I went on one of these trips when I was in university, we went to Ghana, so I got to experience it myself,” she said, “I thought it would be a good opportunity to give high school students to go see other parts of the world. It really changes your outlook on life.”
When Boone first told students about the trip there were 20 students from the school who wanted to go but because of circumstances the majority decided against it.
“There were more kids signed up to go with us but because we were supposed to go to Kenya there were parents who weren't comfortable with that after Ebola broke out,” she said, “The Dominican though was one of our next choices.”
The trip had been in the works since October 2013 and the money that had been raised to fund the project had been raised by the students.
Rhianna Odlin was one of the first students to push for the chance to go on this trip.
She said she and the other students collected bottles, bagged groceries and had online auctions.
“Everyone has done different things on their own and then we have done some things together like the ball hockey tournament and the auction,” Odlin said.
The group traveled to Sosua, a town in the Dominican Republic made up of 49,593 people. The town has been a safe haven for people who were living in Haiti when the January 2010 earthquake happened.
The earthquake devastated the Dominican Republic, killing more than 230,000 people. With 1.5 million people displaced around the island, Sosua has become the home of many.
David Dickinson, 17, says seeing the earthquake’s devastation on the television is completely different than seeing it in person.
“It really makes you think about what has happened when you get to see it first hand.”
Staying at the Playa Laguna, the group traveled into the town and everyday there was something new. Some days they would be interacting with the people in the community or witnessing some eye-opening experiences.
“We were exposed to many things that living in rural Nova Scotia we wouldn't see,” Odlin said, “The image of the kids playing, they were so happy ... that gave us the drive to get through everything no matter how tired we were or how much we hurt.”
Me to We,partners with Free the Children. A international charity and education partener, with more then 2.3 million youth involved in education and development programs. Me to We focuses on five pillars of sustainability, education, clean water and sanitation, health, alternative income, agriculture and food security. The main focus for the group was education, as they helped to build a school for the children.
Lyndsay Best, a second-year university student who went with the high school group, said she had an amazing cultural experience during the seven days in the Dominican Republic.
“I had been to the Dominican twice before so nothing shocked or surprised me, but I was nervous,” she said, “The most rewarding part of the trip was seeing what we accomplished with the school, although it wasn't much, it was our work that did it.”
When Boone, the teacher spearheading the trip, describes how it changed her for the better when she went to Ghana at the age of 19.
“I opened up in a way I had never really opened up before,” she said, “You feel connected to these other people and when I came home, I was really grateful for what I had.”
Odlin explains how the group would get up and be on the build site of the school by 9 a.m., and were working on the project with other members of the community as well.
Lunch would be ready at the hotel by 12:30 p.m. and then they were able to go back into town and play with the kids. For the group from Parrsboro School, the children of the community touched their hearts in more ways than one.
Kylee Smith, a student on the trip, talks about the children of the community.
“I will never forget the kids we played with and the strong bonds we built with so many,” she said, “to see them smile and look past the poverty they faced was powerful.”
Best, the second-year university says that she will never forget spending time with the children of Sosua.
“There was something so special about doing something for a group of people you've never met and getting to hang out with them and getting to know them,” she said, “It's a huge reminder why you’re doing what you are doing.”
Well the group helped to build on education for the community by building the school, the community educated them in return.
“One day we spent it learning the history of the Dominican and Haiti, the poverty and the extreme racism between the two,”Odlin said, “After the day was done we covered a leadership session where we learned about taking action, sustainability or the negative side of tourism.”
In 2012, Me to We contributed to more than 2.5 million litres of water being saved, 1,476 trees were saved and 269,848 hours of volunteer services were given on trips such as what these kids went on.
With temperatures in Sosua reaching highs of 24 C, some days on the build site were more difficult than others.
“When we were building the school it was so hot, we were tired sweaty and basically wanted to go home,” Odlin said, “But it was the kids who were so happy yet they had nothing. We pushed through everything to get the job done no matter how tired we were or how much we hurt.”
Besides the friendships there are memories that these kids will hold onto for the rest of their lives.
“We got to be there on the build site brick by brick and actually change the education for these kids living in the village forever,” Odlin said, “We had the chance to learn about something that we aren't affected by here and give back.”
Parrsboro Regional High School’s Team FRESH began on March 31st, 2015. The members of this group wear big smiles as they explore, create and the share healthy, nutritious food together. Shawna Shiers leads the Fresh team which runs on Tuesdays from 3:00-5:00pm from April-June. PRHS received a NS School Food and Nutrition Policy grant to support the initiative.
SAFE CHOICE DRIVING SCHOOL
Each year, in the month of October, Nova Scotians celebrate the contributions of Mi’kmaq people to Nova Scotia’s past, present and future with Mi’kmaq History Month. October 1, Treaty Day, commemorates the signing of the 1752 Treaty and begins the month-long celebrations and educational offerings at CCRSB schools and across Nova Scotia.
Mi'kmaq history month poster 2014