It isn’t fun in the sun that has a group of 21 Niagara College students bound for warmer climates this mid-term break; it’s a determination to help others.
On February 25, 21 students from the College’s Justice Studies program will depart for Nicaragua on a Me to We volunteer travel experience – one that aims to empower young people to change the world. During their nine-day stay, the students will participate in a community build project. They will not discover the nature of their project until they arrive – whether it’s to help to construct a school or medical clinic, or lend their hands to a freshwater or agriculture project. They do know it will be hard work; manual labour in the hot sun.
Police Foundations coordinator Jim Norgate has briefed them well. After organizing annual Me to We volunteer trips for NC’s Justice Studies students since 2014, he knows exactly how physically challenging the work can be. He’s not only leads the students, he participates alongside them.
What drives him to continue organizing the trips, year after year?
“When you go down there, once you see that the people have so little, and we have so much, you realize that there’s only so much you can do to change that,” he said. “And this is just one thing, so I keep doing it.”
Norgate has witnessed the impact their efforts have not only on the communities that they help but on the students who participate.
“I believe an experience like this is as important to their educational path as the classroom is,” said Norgate. “It’s a life-changing experience. The students don’t come back the same as they went.”
Second-year Police Foundations student Jennifer Siman had no qualms about giving up a week of potential relaxation for one of manual labour. After weekly meetings with the group – including a presentation by Me to We – she felt well prepared to tackle the experience that awaits.
“It’s for personal development. I’ve never done something like this before but I’ve always wanted to,” said Siman. “It’s about grasping the reality of what it’s like in a third world country. I’ve never been outside North America. It’s going to be eye-opening.”
Second-year Private Security student Phillip Minaker said that this will be his second ‘mission trip’ after participating one as a high school student. “Doing the work, seeing how they live, what they have, it’s an emotional experience,” he said. “It changes you.”
He also noted that it led him to change his perspective on everyday life.
“We definitely take for granted our hot showers,” he said. “It’s the small things. Sometimes, we’ll sit down and take that cup of coffee for granted. Some of these villagers – they don’t get that.”
The group’s focus on helping others is already well underway. They have raised funds to help finance the cost of the volunteer trip – which costs about $3,000 per person – for those who would have not been able to afford to go. Each student in the group is involved in fundraising, regardless of his or her own financial situation.
The trip is supported by the College’s Be World Ready International Field Studies program, which aims to broaden the horizons and cultural awareness of students through travel, as they learn to apply their areas of expertise in an international environment.