It’s quite fitting that a bright red plant, native to Mexico, has become a fundraising source for a goodwill trip to the southern country in 2017.
After focusing on community-wide volunteerism last year, PEAK Leadership students in Salmo have shifted their sights into selling flowers this month as their “Project Mexico” draws near.
“The kids are getting excited,” says Sacha Kalabis, PEAK teacher sponsor and Salmo Secondary School vice principal. “We mostly did community service last year, but with the expense of such a venture, now we are having to shift primarily into fundraising.”
Aside selling poinsettias, the program’s 10 students are busy with other extracurricular duties that include organizing a raffle and silent auction, with the latter slated for February at the Salmo Ski Hill.
“We are picking up little (volunteering) pieces, like helping out the women’s auxiliary and a project for the Village of Salmo, we re-painted all the garbage bins with the new bear proof tops,” said Kalabis. “But our big push now is on fundraising, the trip is in March.”
Travel costs are about $2,500 per head, though each student is kicking in $500. That $5,000 contribution is for “Project Mexico” itself, the funds will be used for materials to build a new home for an impoverished Oaxaca family.
“We do the work through a group called Techamos Una Mano, an organization that’s focused on access to healthy living, water and education,” Kalabis explained. “They identify a family that’s in severe impoverishment, and then go in and tear down the old home … then we go in partnership with Techamos and build a new home for the family.”
The students will be familiar with some of the housing materials, like 2 x 4s, nails and mortar. But it’s the other building supplies that will likely provide insightful learning and open their eyes to new ways of thinking. Techamos Una Mano was created six years ago by a group of young Oaxacans concerned about deterioration of the environment.
In that time, they’ve developed an innovative way to reuse materials such as TetraPak (juice cartons) and plastic bottles (water, pop and juice) to line and insulate the walls of pre-fabricated homes for families living in poverty.
“Our focus has been on building a healthy social fabric within our local community,” Kalabis shared. “Long term our focus is this international service project, which will be very transformative in nature. Many of the kids haven’t travelled internationally, and through Project Mexico, they’ll be working with a community and culture they’ve had very little exposure to.”
Teaching students about the world outside themselves is where Kalabis’ passion and background in experiential learning comes into play.
“These are pretty amazing students to start off with, they are engaged in their community, see value in citizenship, and in being a vocal and participating member of whatever community they are part of,” he shared. “Now they are going to do a humanitarian effort in Mexico, which is positive, but they’re going to come back with all sorts of knowledge and experience that may help them in their work in their own communities, that’s the idea.”
Many businesses and individuals in Salmo, Trail, Castlegar and Nelson have been supportive of the cause and the group is very appreciative.
But “Project Mexico” is not without critics.
“The natural criticism is to say that there are a lot of projects in our local community and lots of people in need who are short of food or living in impoverished circumstances,” said Kalabis. “They say, ‘Why not direct the money to them?”
PEAK’s energy was directed into local initiatives last year, he reiterated, adding, the group remains very conscious of issues in Salmo and surrounding communities.
“What people aren’t quite thinking about is that we are truly a global community now,” he reflected. “And when we don’t attend to issues in all parts of the world like access to clean living standards, water and education, it’s not like those just remain problems outside our world. In a very real sense, we end up contending with them anyway.”
Sustainable global issues are key messages being talked about in school, Kalabis added.
“We are not just little Salmo, or little Trail or little Nelson. I think there needs to be a bigger conversation, especially with this next generation, we need to be more cognizant of issues other countries face. Because when those are not attended to, they become our issues anyway.