By Kevin McBain
The Kindersley Clarion
Students from Saskatchewan’s Kindersley Composite School are well known for helping others at home and abroad.
Grade 12 students Jillian McArthur and Colton Leismeister recently returned from a Me to We trip, during which they helped build school rooms in India.
McArthur was making her third trip with Me to We and this was Leismeister’s first adventure.
“I talked to Colton about maybe going on the trip with me and a couple of days later he was booked in,” said McArthur.
The pair left on Aug. 5 and returned on Aug. 22.
Colton said that it was an incredible experience.
“It was life-changing for me,” he said. “It really opened my eyes to see what we take for granted. Seeing the kids at school and how different everything is was incredible.”
The group of 28, from all over Canada (including seven from Saskatchewan), worked on a couple of floors and exterior walls for rooms at a school house in Udaipur. They also helped with the future computer lab, a first in the province of Rajasthan.
McArthur, who has also been to China and most recently the Dominican Republic with Me to We, also said that it was great to be a part of the trip.
“It was tough that first day to walk in to where we were working and the students, those who couldn’t fit in the classroom, were sitting in the exposed hallway or in the rubble around the room,” she said. “The workers were tearing down old parts of the walls while they were putting up new ones. It was really sad to to see this. How do they learn like that?
“We felt sad for them, but they were happy and proud with what they have and they seemed content,” she adds. “Not that they don’t want better things for themselves, but not having something doesn’t keep them from being happy.”
The group worked on their project every day and stayed at a permanent Me to We tent facility about a half-hour from the work camp.
Groups from the U.K. and Japan also occupied the camp, which made the experience that much more interesting, they agreed.
Along with the work experience, they were also able to experience and learn about the culture.
They said they talked with their facilitators on subjects such as the caste system, which is still prevalent, gender equality and child marriage, which, despite being illegal, is a huge part of the society.
“About 70 per cent of the kids who were in that school were already married,” said Colton. “Some as young as Grade 3.”
They also said arranged marriages are a big part of India. Sometimes even before a child is born, a spouse is chosen for them.
On the positive side of things, they learned that school is a very important part of the society.
“All children go to school,” said McArthur. “School is very important and is free for boys from K-9 and for girls K-12.”
She added that education is incredibly important to Me to We, which requires all sponsored families to send all their children to school. In order to keep their funding, the families need to ensure all of their children finish school. However, it’s very common for children who aren’t members of sponsored families to not attend school. Aside from financial reasons, the high child marriage rate is also a huge factor. Many students immediately drop out after getting married, so many are left without a quality education.
She added that education is a lot more important in India than in many other countries. On her trip to China, for example, she found out that many kids drop out early, some as young as nine years old.
But it wasn’t all work. They did several other activities including a nature walk that took them up alongside a mountain, which was incredible, they both agreed.
They said they also saw a lot of wildlife and “learned the difference between a cow and a water buffalo,” Colton joked.
They were even lucky enough to see a wild elephant, which a guide told them was very rare.
Both agreed it was a great trip and will use their experiences to better themselves and those around them.
Leismeister, who wants to become a teacher, said it was a very valuable experience.
“It was definitely a life-changer and I learned to not take anything I have for granted,” he said, adding that he would definitely take another trip like this if the opportunity arises. “I definitely want to apply what I’ve learned in my career as a teacher.”
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