Two-and-a half-years of preparation pay off when a group of Westsyde secondary students finally boards a plane Wednesday morning.
Their destination: Kenya. Their mission: To help build a school.
The five students and two adults — French teacher Anne Laroche and parent Sean Gorman — will be in the country for 10 days.
They’ve been working on the plan since 2010. The initial intention was to go to Haiti, but that derailed after an earthquake devastated the country.
But nothing would stand in their way for plan B. Not even a teacher strike.
When Laroche was unable to continue her extracurricular duties during limited job action last school year, 15-year-old George Gavriel took the lead in organizing fundraising to raise the $8,500 needed for the trip.
“I’ve just always had a passion for helping other people and trying to do whatever I can to do that,” said the 15-year-old.
It helped that the students were being guided through Me to We — a program aimed at getting youth involved in humanitarian missions around the world.
Me to We is spearheaded by the Free the Children non-profit organization, which launched in Canada and has spawned a humanitarian movement throughout the Western world. After doing some research, the group chose to join the Me to We model cause.
“We like the way that it’s from the ground up,” said Laroche. “Everything has to do with what the village elders decide as opposed to us going in and deciding what they need to make them more like us.”
Students across North America are now familiar with the annual Me to We gatherings where tens of thousands of youth hear from such inspirational leaders as the Dalai Lama.
It appears to be inspiring and empowering an entire generation to make the world a better place.
“I went to We Day in October and I’d already been planning on going (to Kenya) but that really lit the spark and made it that I definitely wanted to do things like this,” said Amy Hilliard, an 18-year-old recent Westsyde grad and the eldest student in the group.
The 10-day trip is precisely planned out and includes leadership workshops, sightseeing, educational talks on the surrounding area’s hardships and triumphs and even some Swahili language lessons.
“Ten days is only enough to give us a taste but it’s neat in the capacity that it’s happening,” said Gorman, a local doctor who is accompanying the group and his 15-year-old son Daniel.
But the main focus will be to continue building a school that previous student groups will have worked on, a work in progress that will continue when the Kamloops group leaves.
“I’m most excited about working on the school,” said Daniel. “We get to work with the people. I think it’ll be awesome.”