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New Tecumseth youth have hands-on experience at First Nations housing project

July 26, 2018   ·   0 Comments

Summer is a time for making memories, whether you’re spending time with your family, soaking up the sun at the beach, or taking a well-deserved holiday from the every day.

The same can be said for eight local youth who returned to New Tecumseth brimming over with memories, but with something more: life-changing experiences that will have a lasting impact not just on them, but on those with whom they interacted.

After six months of research and preparation, the Darling Bequest-Habitat Youth Team set out on July 7 for Tobique First Nation (TFN), located in New Brunswick, where they were instantly hard at work contributing valuable sweat equity to a housing project built in conjunction with the community and Habitat for Humanity.

The team, consisting of Amzy Syed (future physician), Brand Lindayen (yogi, firefighter, rapper), Lindsay Houle (student, future human rights lawyer), Ashley Juneau (future health care worker), Bronwyn Kirby (student, future biologist), Alyssa Taylor (student, Closing the Gap activist), Harrison Von Borzyskowski (future law enforcement), and Elizabeth Waylen (future criminologist/justice worker), along with trip leaders Melanie Lindayen and John Terry, arrived on the ground where they received a Maliseet Welcome Song and an in-depth meeting with Elder Paul Bear, Band Councillors Shane Perley, Julian Moulton and their families.

Following a drum lesson with the band, the group had the honour of participating in a sweat lodge ceremony and an in-depth tour of the reserve.

The hard work began on the third day of the trip, wielding hammers to frame exterior walls for the new habitat home the Tobique Reserve and they kept that pace from there on out.

The trip was made possible through The Darling Bequest, made by Phyllis and John Darling to St. John’s United Church in Alliston. The program provides teams of youth and young adults from New Tec with the chance to participate in worthwhile projects.

The program aims to engage local youth and the community with Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build decent and affordable housing around the world; to provide an opportunity for life-changing volunteer, travel and personal development experiences to form  network of future change agents in the New Tec area, and to promote the spirit of Reconciliation and understanding of Indigenous culture and community.

This month’s trip was the program’s first partnership with a First Nations community.

According to organizers, this was particularly timely for the team to “learn, listen and explore what it means to live in right relations with our indigenous and non-indigenous neighbours, and to spark dialogue – and action – on the meaning of Reconciliation in New Tecumseth, Simcoe, and in Canada.”

“When we first arrived, we did a little tour and had a question and answer session with a couple of the band Councillors and met regularly with a few band Councillors who were involved with the youth projects on the reserve,” Ms. Lindayen tells The Times. “We did a sweat lodge ceremony with an elder and that, for me, was probably one of the main highlights and the most overwhelming to come in as outsiders. We were blown away by our welcome. On the housing side, we got to meet with some of the families who now have safe, decent shelters in Habitat homes thanks to this kind of project.”

The housing and welfare side of the journey was something that somewhat surprised Ms. Lindayen, she said. They went into the project with a briefing, but she was interested in the dynamics and relationship between the Band Councils and government.

“There are often long delays in getting any new housing in the community,” she explains. “We found there were 13 years they hadn’t been able to build new homes, and we saw the results of that with families crammed into small, couple-of-bedroom houses and these are large, multigenerational families.

“We were pretty impressed with the changes they have been making as well. It’s a pretty young Band Council and they established a new Council a couple of years ago. We were pleasantly surprised to see the Youth Council calling for change and spaces where they can meet, gather safely, and have some opportunities and support for education.”

This coming month, the New Tec youth participating in the trip will have the chance to share their experiences and life lessons with the entire community as the group hosts a potluck on August 18.

The event, which will run from 11.30 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. at St. John’s United Church (56 Victoria Street East, Alliston), will feature personal presentations from each team member, along with rap-style reflections on the build and a video montage that can only be described as “epic.”

“I am looking forward to hearing how they vocalize what the experience meant to them and how it will apply to those exciting careers they plan to go into,” says Ms. Lindayan. “When we selected them, they were the best of the best. I guess the most enthusiastic of New Tecumseth, so they have had a couple of weeks to digest the impacts of this trip and it really changed their lives. I am looking forward to seeing the way that change will play out in their very bright futures.”

By Brock Weir

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