Catherine Charlebois

Catherine Charlebois

Nanaimo students embark on humanitarian aid trip

NANAIMO – Work in West African country includes delivering school supplies.

A group of Nanaimo secondary school students are going to West Africa next week on the trip of a lifetime.

Seven francophone students from Nanaimo District Secondary School have worked hard to raise the money needed to go on an 18-day trip to Senegal with 13 other students from around the province. But it is not your average, relaxing spring break trip – it consists of three weeks of humanitarian work.

The trip, from March 13 to April 1, is organized by the provincial Conseil Scholaire Francophone school district’s distance learning school and is the final part of a two-year global perspectives course.

In Senegal, the students will visit schools to deliver supplies and books, work in orphanages and help out in small villages, using the city of Mbour as a base.

“I’m just expecting to leave there heartbroken,” said Grade 12 student Catherine Charlebois, of working with the children in orphanages.

“I’m excited but kind of terrified at the same time.”

Francis Richard, also in Grade 12, hopes to immerse himself in the experience of culture very different from the one he’s known all his life, where there are no big box stores or cellphones and the electricity doesn’t always work.

“I really wanted to make a difference at some point in my life and this was an option to do it,” he said.

The global perspectives course covers such topics as globalization, African cultures and how industries work in developing countries.

Part of the course requirement is raising $4,000 to finance the trip, $500 of which goes to covering the costs of sending Senegalese children to school – it costs $200 for a child to go to school for a year, so each of the B.C. students will send more than two kids to school for one year.

“We’re sending about 80 children to school between the 20 of us,” said Lucas Pallard, a Grade 11 student.

The seven Nanaimo students raised the money by bagging groceries, selling donuts and hotdogs, roadside cleanup work and making presentations to local service clubs. They also went to elementary schools to solicit donations of items like school supplies, clothing and toothbrushes. Each student will transport a 22.5-kilogram box of these donations to Africa along with their own bag.

Christian Côté, principal of the CSF distance learning school who teaches the global perspectives course, said Senegal is one of the more stable countries to visit in Africa and the students will be staying on a college campus in Mbour.

He said the district decided to run this program online for francophone students from across the province to apply because it would be hard to get enough students from one school – the school starts off with 60 applicants and between 20 and 25 students end up going to Africa.

The trip provides students with an opportunity to think about different ways of living and being happy, Côté added, and the students will see people who live in poverty and don’t have access to electricity or running water.