Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Canoeing Experience

     They entered the woods as a collection of newcomers from all over the world. But they emerged as friends with a new appreciation for their new homeland and themselves.
    This summer, SWIS initiated a new partnership with the Project Canoe agency to provide a bona fide Canadian canoeing experience to a group of young newcomers.
    Project Canoe uses the outdoors, including wilderness canoeing, to create a transformative environment in which young people can develop life skills, social competencies and resiliency.
Thanks to this new partnership, we were able to send nine young people between the ages of 14 and 18 to the beautiful Lake Temagami region. Located about 100 km north of North Bay, the region featuresa spectacular lake with hundreds of kilometers of shoreline, more than 1,200 islands and a protected old-growth forest.
     We set out on our adventure in the early days of July. Nine youths from Tibet (China/India), Brazil, Mexico and Iran joined me and three other adult supervisors (two from Project Canoe and two from CultureLink) for an eight-day canoe journey into the Canadian wilderness.
    The beautiful sunny weather was on our side as we set out, but it also proved ideal for the swarms of mosquitoes that caught many of us city dwellers off guard with their sheer numbers and tenacity. Luckily, the young people took this challenge in stride, as they did a number of the other tests of strength and endurance that we were to face on this trip.
     It is not easy to navigate the waters of Lake Temagami while searching for a good place to pitch a tent and prepare a meal on an open fire. Also, the strength required to portage the boats and heavy equipment may come as a surprise even to those with more experience camping. But in the end, these were the moments that our young campers treasured the most – the challenge of joining a handful of travelling companions to face down the wilderness.
One of the highlights of our trip was our tour of the Northland Paradise Lodge. Doug, the owner, showed our group his collection of taxidermied fish and regaled us with exciting and funny stories about his trapper hobby.
         Although our young campers hailed from various parts of the world, they all enjoyed singing and wanted to sing together. This was a bit of an issue given that there were few songs they all knew. At one point, thought, the realization dawned on them that they were all familiar with the Canadian anthem. As an immigrant myself, this was the moment I personally found most moving. At the end of the day, these youths would all join together to sing
O Canada just before they went sleep. No one told them to do this; they did it spontaneously. I guess this song helped them to find a connection to each other as well as to their new home.

     At the end of the trip, each young camper received a bracelet to commemorate the trip and their own fortitude in challenging themselves. I am sure they are still proudly wearing them.
Written by: Barbora Gomezova, CultureLink SWIS worker
Photo credit: Leana Novakovic, Project Canoe
Posted by: Jessica Wang

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