KENTVILLE - A handful of local high school students are seeing their lives in Canada through a new lens after an eye-opening service trip to Ecuador, where they met 17-year-old Jessica.
“She’s had to sacrifice her education because she had to go get water for her family. She was the only child,” explained Kentville resident Kathy Boutilier, who accompanied her 15-year-old daughter, Jenica Boutilier, on the March Break service trip.
“Lack of opportunity there is a big thing.”
Jessica would go on water walks daily, no matter how arduous the task at hand was for a child, until her family was able to access running water four years ago.
Northeast Kings Education Centre (NKEC) student Layla Beaton says she’ll gripe about having to go to school after spending some time in the Andes and meeting the kids and teens living in Sablog village.
“They would love to go,” the 15-year-old said.
“It puts everything into perspective.”
Beaton, the Boutiliers and Sophie Stokvis, also 15, were among a group of eight high school students and six mothers to make the ME to WE mission trip to Ecuador. The travel group included fellow NKEC students Dailyn Quimby-MacIntyre and Anna Stevenson, as well as Horton High student Emily Selfridge.
“A highlight for me was meeting the people from Ecuador. Jessica during our water walk and the kids in the village of Sablog. I think of them every day,” said Jenna Lewis of Lower Sackville, who went along with her mother, Margaret.
“Now I think more about water than ever before, how long my showers are and not running the water for too long when I brush my teeth.”
Many of the students have been fundraising since November 2016 to be able to come up with $4,500 to be able to partake in the experience.
“I don’t think any of us realized what it was going to feel like until we were actually there. You can’t even describe it. It’s something you have to do to really understand,” said Jenica Boutilier.
“We’re just so lucky and not everything is about what you have physically,” added Stokvis.
The indigenous culture in the areas they visited embraced a cooperative lifestyle.
One of the most resonating experiences from the trips was an exercise that tasked the girls with going to the market with the amount of money the people they encountered in Ecuador would typically have to feed their families for the day, and try to gather enough food for a nutritious meal. The girls were shocked when some groups were handed as little as 50 cents prior to going to the market.
“Living in Canada, a lot of things are about having material objects, but there all they need is each other and they’re happy with that,” said Stokvis.
“I knew it was going to be different, but it was very different from here.”
Beaton appreciated the warm reception they received when they arrived in the community where they’d be helping build brick walls for a school and digging trenches.
“They’re all waving, and they’re all smiling and they’re all so happy, which you don’t even get here when people drive by… we just felt so welcome,” she said.
They worked alongside residents of the village, visited the local elementary school and enjoyed impromptu games of soccer and Ring Around the Rosie with the children.
“Even though there’s a language barrier somehow it still worked and you could still communicate with them, which was pretty cool,” said Stokvis.
Boutilier took particular note of the emphasis on family and communal living in the sense that residents function as a support network. She said the trip was an emotional journey from beginning to end.
“We never felt sorry for them, never felt like ‘Oh, your life would be so much better if you lived in North America,’” said Boutilier.
It’s an experience they’re not likely to forget and one that, Boutilier hopes, will continue to inspire the participants for years to come.
“Education is all over the world through travel and I really hope that they’ll build on this,” said Boutilier, a teacher at Wolfville School.
“There’s just no words to describe the experience."