March 23, 2011
By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
While March Break can be a good time for families to relax and unwind, Orchard Park Public School Grade 8 student Tori Walker spent her week off in a special way with her mom and sister – helping build a school in Africa.
As part of humanitarian organization Me to We’s latest goodwill mission, Tori, mom Lisa and sister Alivia, a Grade 11 student in Robert Bateman High School, left for Kenya on March 12, returning today (March 23), to assist building a much-needed school in impoverished and politically-unstable Kenya. The learning Walker received while toiling away in the African country will last a lifetime.
The Burlington trio spent their excursion in Kenya’s Maasai Mara village building schools, digging wells and planting trees. They met local elders and community leaders, walked with the local “mamas” to draw water, see how the locals extract medicine from the plants in the forests and learned some of the Swahili language.
Me to We has connected with 194,430 students in 416 schools. Walker has been one of those students introduced to the group and says its message about caring for the world resonated with her and influenced, in part, her desire to travel to Kenya. She also notes friends of the family participated in similar humanitarian efforts and were very positive about the experience. The family was responsible to pay for the $18,000 trip.
Before leaving for her daylong flight, which included two eight-hour flights, Lisa was excited.
“You have to actually help them by giving them an education; we need to help them help themselves,” she says, noting she is fortunate to have been born in a country with a chance to succeed in life. “Girls in Kenya don’t get to go to school because they have to get water all day.”
It is important students begin helping at a young age because it can inspire others to pitch in and do something positive, she explains.
“If you experience something like this, it might change the way you look at things for the rest of your life,” Tori says, adding they were to be staying in simple accommodations.
While Walker has learned so much local history and customs in Kenya, the trip, in particular, is relevant to the patterns in human geography unit being taught at Orchard Park Public School. Students are learning about patterns and trends in population distribution, settlement, land use, employment and levels of development, as well as understanding the concept of a 'right' and how rights can be upheld or violated at a local, national or global levels.
An important emphasis in the unit also involves teaching students to be global citizens and how can one person make a difference.
Teachers Christine Blakeley and Leigh Kennedy are helping students participate in Me to We activities, like a day of silence, to engage in things like social justice.
“Leigh and I feel very strongly our students have opportunities to be global citizens,” Blakeley says, adding Tori’s trip will hopefully help fellow student put their lives in perspective. Tori will be making a presentation to the school when she returns to share what she learned.
Orchard Park Public School principal Libby Stephenson is very proud of Tori’s efforts to help a country half a world away. She is hopeful other students will learn from Tori’s trip about how we all can make a difference.
“It opens the door to increase students’ global awareness about issues affecting children,” she says. “I know, because of her outstanding leadership skills, Tori will bring that back and share it with our students.”
Mom Lisa says the family was certainly “inspired” to go to Kenya based on the do-good experience their friends in Sudbury had with Free the Children. She thought the African trip would enlighten all of their perspectives on life.
“I’m hoping to return with even more enlightened young ladies,” Lisa Walker says.
She also hopes they return home with an even greater appreciation for living in Canada.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Kenya is among the poorest African nations. Due to climate variability, Kenya endures repeated drought and flood disasters, sometimes simultaneously.
Food can be very scarce in Kenya as it faced crop shortfalls of up to 40 per cent of normal production as of last year. Socio-economic inequalities, uneven development, and the impact of the global financial crisis have combined to deepen the nation’s poverty level.