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Half a world away
Inuvik high school students reflect on an eye-opening trip

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sometimes travelling far away can make one appreciate life at home.

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Meredith Baskin paints a bed for the Kidane Mehret Children's Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Inuvik students painted 45 of these beds over three days.

That's one of the lessons learned by a group of Grade 12 students from Samuel Hearne Secondary School who recently travelled to Ethiopia to volunteer at an orphanage and school there.

"It really gives you a sense of what your role is in the world, in terms of where you fit in," said student Amie Charlie. "We're really privileged here in North America compared to there."

The group of six students and two teachers left Inuvik on March 28, and arrived in Ethiopia on March 30. They spent two weeks working and living with about 100 children between four days and 16 years old at Kidane Mehret Children's Home in Addis Ababa. They also spent time at Lemlem School, a pre-kindergarten to Grade 10 facility, where they built shelves for the students to store their lunches and helped restore a mural. The group left Ethiopia April 13 and arrived back in Inuvik on April 17.

"The trip was really awesome, and I didn't want to leave," said Davis Neyando.

At the orphanage, the students helped care for babies, taught and played with toddlers, and "just sort of hung out" with the older kids, he said.

One of the big differences between Inuvik and Addis Ababa is the look of the houses, which are "not as great" as the ones here, said Neyando.

There were also security fences along a lot of the buildings with security guarding the gates.

The language barrier was not a major obstacle many people could speak English, and the school they worked with taught in English, said teacher Zahra Khimji.

For many of the students, such as Meredith Baskin, this was their first time travelling outside of Canada and the United States.

"It was a really good experience I'd definitely go back," said Baskin.

For her, the craziest thing about how life was different over there than here was the driving.

"There were no traffic regulations, whatsoever," said Baskin. "There were people everywhere. There were people walking in the middle of the road."

Charlie agreed that one of the most surprising things about life in Ethiopia is the driving.

"It's just so much busier, it's crazy," said Charlie. "When they drive, they just drive and honk the horn in a crowd of people, and the people are expected to move."

Charlie called the way the students acted towards her when volunteering at the school "heart warming."

"They're extremely disciplined and really polite," she said. "When we walked in, they were all singing 'welcome teacher' and they all stood up at the same time and they all sat down at the same time.

"And they love to learn that's the thing, they just really love to go to school."

"It's kind of made me value my education more."

Their first day at the school was dubbed an Ethio-Canada cultural exchange day where students shared bits of their culture. The Inuvik students practised different animal calls, such as moose, duck and squirrel, said Charlie. They also brought books with them that explained life in the Mackenzie Delta.

"They said it was pretty cool how we had snow and walked on the snow with snowshoes," she said.

Allison Baetz said the children who they played with in the orphanage made the biggest impression on her.

"I think it's because there weren't a lot of people that would pay attention to all the kids like we paid attention to them, and they're all nice," she said. "They're all really clingy, too."

Life in the orphanage or simply 'home,' as the sisters who run the home called it was very happy, said Charlie. While staying there, the students got to witness an adoption first-hand by attending the going-away celebrations of a brother and sister who were leaving for America.

Charlie was involved with the trip from the start. She started recruiting in April of last year, getting her peers to commit to the trip. The students had been fundraising since last summer to cover their travel costs. The effort to raise enough funds involved two different raffle draws, a dinner and a few hundred hours of work.

"There was an effort on our part, but there was a lot of effort on the part of the community as well, said Khimji. Along with supporting the group's fundraising efforts throughout the year, community businesses, individuals and organizations pitched in a good portion of the money through added donations.

Early in the process, the students had to decide where to travel. They had a few options, including going to Costa Rica to help save turtles.

"We chose Ethiopia because we didn't want it to be a resort sort of thing," said Neyando.

Back in Inuvik, the group of travellers are still re-adjusting to being Grade 12 students at a Canadian high school.

Just from going from the 25 C to 30 C temperatures back into Arctic spring was a bit of a shock to the system, said Neyando.

"I think all of us had culture shock. It was just really bewildering and, just, it was crazy," said Charlie.

For her, one of the most striking impressions from the trip was the level of poverty they saw people living in and how happy these people were even though they had almost nothing.

"We're so privileged here," said Charlie. "It takes $150 to sponsor a child for them to go to school for a year, that's what we would spend on a pair of jeans."

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