Going the distance to help others on mid-term break


School of Justice Studies staff Kathryn Beacham (left) and faculty Jim Norgate (back row) gather with a group of students they will be leading to Ecuador on a Me to We volunteer experience from February 23 to Mach 3.

A group of students are ready to put down their books and get their hands dirty on a mid-term break trip to Ecuador. Their mission: to help remove barriers to education.

Twenty students, mostly from the  Police Foundations program, have signed up spend their break participating in a grassroots community build project with Me to We where they be assigned to a manual labour project. Offered by Niagara College as an international field study trip, the group will depart for Ecuador on February 23 and return on March 3.

Police Foundations program coordinator Jim Norgate, who has been leading NC students on annual Me to We volunteer trips for the past six years, noted that the experience not only broadens the students’ horizons and cultural awareness, but empowers them to make a difference and help change the world.

“This is education beyond the classroom. There is serious need across the globe and this experience is designed to help our students realize how they can make an impact,” said Norgate. “As our students work to help change the lives of those in need, it also becomes a life-changing experience for them.”

For second-year Police Foundations student Johanna Arias, it will be a long-awaited opportunity.

“I always wanted to do something like this but I had my kids at home,” she said, noting that this will be her first time travelling without them, now that they are older.  “Now that I came back to the college, I have this opportunity.”

For Arias, the motivation to give back is personal.

“I just wanted to give back the many things Canada gave to me when I came here from Colombia 14 years ago,” she said.

The trip will  be the second time around for Christopher Reilley, who graduated from the College’s Practical Nursing program in spring 2018 and currently works at a local hospital. Last year, he travelled with the group to Nicaragua and found the experience rewarding.

“it was physically challenging. I had a rough time. But it was rewarding to be there to help people; you feel really good about it,” he said. “Helping people is what I do so it’s nice to be able to do it somewhere else.”

Reilly noted that he also values the travel experience it offers.

“You get to learn a lot about the other cultures that you probably wouldn’t get to do as a tourist; you’re actually interacting with the community,” he said. ” It’s a really great experience to see how other people live.”

The journey to help others has already begun for participating students. Since last fall, they have been raising funds to help finance the trip for students who would not otherwise be financially able to cover the cost of the trip – about $3,000 per student.  Each student in the group has raised a minimum of $600, raising more than $10,000 collectively this year. During the past six years, participating students have raised more than $$70,000 to help their fellow students participate in the annual trip. Participants are also eligible for a $500 Be World Ready grant through the College’s International division to help offset the cost.

On February 13, the group gathered to get sneak preview of the experience that awaits and travel advice tips from a Me to We representative who visited them at the Welland Campus.

Prasha Balakumaran, client experience coordinator from Me to We, went over their itinerary, what to expect and advised the students about what to bring on the trip.

“I always tell students, the journey doesn’t end when you return from your trip,” she said, explaining that Me to We encourages them to stay involved. “It’s only the beginning.”

Me to We client experience coordinator Prasha Balakumaran goes over the itinerary with students on February 13 at the Welland Campus.