Volunteering without Borders – Bénévolat sans frontières

Raymond_Opolot_BlogThis past summer, I went to Uganda, a country in Africa that is about a 20-hour flight from Canada. While there, I volunteered at my grandmother’s school –  Namutebi Nkata Nursery and Primary School – as part of my Duke of Edinburgh service hours.

The work I did consisted of compiling an index of newly received library books. These were some of the over 3,000 books collected so far by my two sisters and me since 2013 from friends and well-wishers in Montreal.

While doing this, I came up with the idea of starting a book club. I developed a draft concept and presented it to the principal who loved the idea! The purpose of the club is to expand the students’ vocabulary and to strengthen their reading, writing and presentation skills.

In order to promote the club, I organized the first meeting where I read to 21 of the students at the school. The thing that fascinated me most was their love of reading. The children seemed very excited to receive so many books because of the lack of accessible literature in Uganda. Here in Canada, we are very fortunate to have both school and local libraries, while in Uganda this is not the case. – Raymond Opolot ’19

Head’s Blog: Montreal Smog & COP23

chimney-1705977_1280Returning to Montreal by car recently from a weekend out of town, I was disappointed to hear that our city was cloaked in an official smog warning. Many of us may be inclined to associate smog with summer heat and visible thick, orange haze. However, Montreal actually experiences more smog alerts during late fall and winter than we do during the summer. This is because of a combination of heavy cold air and light winds that trap pollution close to the ground.

The City of Montreal posts a daily Air Quality Index or AQI. It specifically measures levels of carbon and sulphur dioxide, ozone and fine particulate in the air. In recent years, air quality in Montreal has actually improved significantly, especially compared to emissions levels in the mid-1990’s. The two most recent factors leading to improvements occurred in 2014: the closure of a large oil refinery in the east end of Montreal and the shutdown of several coal-powered plants in Ontario and the US Midwest. Experts estimate that air quality in Ontario and the US states that border Canada are actually responsible for 60% of the pollutants in our air. So, we should care about policies and practices outside of Quebec.

Currently, the biggest contributor to smog in Montreal is wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. I was surprised to learn that they represent approximately 40% of the problem when compared to vehicles, which represent just over 20% of local emissions. To address this, new laws have been passed and traditional fireplaces need to be registered and upgraded by October 1, 2018, with most people moving to units that cleanly burn propane or natural gas.

How about the international scene and global warming? The 2015 UN Climate Conference “COP21” received a lot of attention a couple of years ago with the signing of the Paris Accord. It was deemed a significant international achievement because of its objective to significantly reduce emissions globally. The USA, with its massive economy, signed that accord. Yet, the Trump administration supports the coal industry and does not acknowledge global warming as a real threat. Consequently, it has declared it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which has alarmed many.

On the positive front, over the past several years the world has actually diminished CO2 emissions levels that contribute to global warming. But, 2017 has been a year where it appears that that trend has stalled and the world has actually slightly increased emissions.

China is a signatory of the Paris Agreement and is also the world’s leader in the development of renewable technologies. However, a drought there last summer diminished levels of rivers and the capacity of renewable hydro facilities to produce enough clean power to satisfy demand. So, the country was forced to turn to coal to meet power needs. India is another large country that has managed to limit the growth of emissions. Yet, forecasters wonder if that can be maintained long-term, given the growing middle class and greater demand for electricity. Given some unforeseen circumstances that have contributed to higher emissions in 2017, will this be a blip or a long-term trend? Nobody is certain about this.

Last week, environment ministers from around the world wrapped up another major UN Environment meeting in Bonn, Germany called COP23, which ended on a positive note. Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, explained that she is part of an alliance of nations determined to completely eliminate coal-powered electricity. Canada has set the year 2030 as the year we aim to achieve this, and we hope to bring several other countries on board.

Eliminating coal-powered electricity will partly be possible due to innovation and falling costs of renewable power. Also, despite US President Trump’s support of coal and denial of climate change science, a lot of important players in the US are actually openly stepping up to combat the president’s position. Mayors of many major cities, state governors and a host of businesses are committed to reducing emissions and the impact of climate change, regardless of what the federal government does.

So, we should all pay attention to the news on climate change. Read about COP23 — there are significant developments afoot with many people and nations striving to find ways to improve the situation. Let’s remember, it’s our collective future we’re talking about here; avoidance and inaction will not solve the problem. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Precious Water

faucet-2895592_1280In October, I had the privilege of being one of over a thousand student and adult delegates at the Round Square International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

A significant take-away from that experience relates to H2O or water, something that we have in abundance here in Canada, but an important resource that we all largely take for granted.

This is not the case in Southern Africa. Any visitor to Cape Town is immediately made aware that there is a water crisis that has affected the region because of a severe drought for the past five years. This is a place where baths are no longer permitted (plugs have been removed from all tubs in hotels) and showers are now limited to a maximum of 2 minutes.

The city of Cape Town is taking many steps to manage the crisis, yet officials are not certain that they will work. It has adopted a scenario called the new normal”, declaring the city a permanent drought region and mandating that every citizen change his/her relationship with water by simply consuming less. It has also unveiled a new Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan in an attempt to avert an even more severe scenario in the future.

As it stands, Cape Town currently only has about 25% of the water that the city requires, and significant changes and reduction levels are being imposed on individuals, families, and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals.

The city currently uses 618 million litres of water per day, and unless consumption is soon reduced to no more than 500 million litres/day, then the city’s water source could run dry before the end of March, only four months from now.

The municipality is limiting water consumption to 350 litres/day per household in certain cases and strict enforcement measures are being introduced, including fines and other consequences. One option being considered is extreme water pressure reduction across the whole city and to start rationing water with localized temporary shutdowns across different sectors of the city. More recycling of “grey water” will also be mandated. If the city slips into the “disaster stage” or “extreme disaster” stage, the city tap system would be turned off and people will only receive limited amounts of water at designated collection points, primarily for drinking.

Exposure to all of this made me reflect on our relationship to water here in Montreal. As Canadians, we have plenty of this increasingly precious resource. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be preserving it more. Unfortunately, on a global scale, we are actually water gluttons. On average each Quebecer consumes about 400 litres of water per day. We are the second largest consumers of water per person in the world, and we consume twice as much as the average European. So, perhaps we should start a new relationship with water ourselves.

On our west coast, the city of Vancouver decided to focus on reducing water consumption over a decade ago and has experienced success (reduction of 20+%). Yet, it is Australia that leads the world in conservation practices. These examples reinforce that we can do better here.

This week, I asked all of our high school students to show greater affinity with Round Square schools in South Africa by trying a week of 2-minute showers. I hope this first step goes well and will lead to further conservation initiatives. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Keep an Open Mind, Try New Things and Enjoy the Adventure

day-838784_960_720If there’s one thing we, as high school students, hear more than anything else, it’s the questions: So, where do you see yourself in a couple years? Or, What do you want to study when you graduate?

And if there’s one thing we feel more than anything, it’s overwhelming guilt when we are unable to come up with a solid answer to these questions.

You see, high school is the time to discover what you enjoy most. It’s the time for “personal adventure”.

Personal adventure can mean infinitely different things to different people. In fact, the words themselves only mean whatever you want them to.

Perhaps, for you, personal adventure could mean taking part in that annual March Break trip you’ve been hearing about for the past couple of years. Maybe it means standing up at Model UN or debating and speaking in front of a crowd. Or maybe it’s simply just raising your hand in class to make your ideas heard.

No matter what it means to you, high school offers you a unique chance to create your own little adventures. We won’t again be lucky enough to have so many opportunities placed in front of us while having so few responsibilities.

Because personal adventure is more than just enjoying the time we have here to the fullest. It’s more complicated than saying carpe diem. It presents the opportunity to discover not only what we actually want out of life, but why we want it and how we’ll get there.

There was a point in my high school career where I hadn’t realized the importance of these little adventures. In fact, I had planned my entire life out for the next two decades. That’s longer than any of us students have been alive.

In grade 2, I saw the movie Nim’s Island and decided that I wanted nothing more than to become a marine biologist. I was so sold on this idea that by the time I reached Middle School, I had a list of my top universities planned out. Then, grade 9 rolled around along with a year-long biology unit in science. I then realized how little I enjoyed the topic (sorry Ms. Commerford). So then, what was I supposed to do? These plans I had made to last a lifetime had suddenly fallen apart in a matter of months and I felt lost. Although we may feel confident in our own judgement, it’s impossible to know what we will enjoy before we have enjoyed it.

The thing I realized then is that excessive planning for your future takes an excessive amount of time; it leaves you with a one-track mind that is wholly closed off to new ideas and experiences.

The second I realized I no longer knew what I wanted to do was also the second I began to try new things. I signed up for every club, eager to see what I had been missing. I found a love for Model UN and politics, realized how much fun physics was and took every opportunity I was given to travel to new places.

When I was locked in to biology, I stopped myself from straying too far from it. Why waste my time doing things that won’t help my future career? And I’m not advocating for you to join a club to pad your resume. I’m asking you to not be defined by your future plans.

Because, in the end, that’s what high school is for. high school isn’t here for us to already know how our life is going to roll out for the next 20 or 30 years. High school is here for us to try new things, go on wild trips, meet new people and make life-changing memories.

So enjoy the time you have here. The future may seem infinitely brighter than the present but along the way there will be spots of darkness. And when you’re fighting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of those dark places, you must be able to look back and feel the warmth of the memories you forged to help you get through it, not the pressure of exhaustive plans that were born out of the illusion that they would save you.

To those who don’t know what you want to do in the future, you’re not alone. To those who do, I trust your judgement, and I know that you will find success and happiness in whatever you choose. – Emma Belhadfa ’18

Student Exchange Australia: An Unforgettable Experience

FullSizeRender-1

After spending a great time with my exchange Lachlan’s family in Queensland, I had the chance to start school at Carey Grammar. Although I was a little anxious as I didn’t know what to expect, I was quite excited to finally meet the students and attend classes in a foreign country.

On the first morning of school, I was welcomed by the school’s exchange coordinator and introduced to four other exchange students from New York. We received our school and gym uniforms, which was very much like ours other than the colours, as well as a laptop and a schedule. We were now well equipped to start our first days at Carey Grammar.

One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving at the school was how big the school was. The “Kew” Campus, as the students called it, took up a whole city block and had numerous buildings to accommodate the 2,000 students. The Middle School Area, which holds students from grades 7, 8 and 9, was comprised mainly of a main hall and two outdoor areas with classrooms around the borders. At first, I was a little intimidated by its large size, but after a few days and a lot of help from Lachlan and the other year 9 students, I became more comfortable around the campus and found my way to all my classes.

What I also found interesting at Carey is that their curriculum is quite different than the one at LCC. My schedule and even those of my classmates in Melbourne had less time slots dedicated for core classes, which allowed students to participate in more electives and other classes, which I thought was interesting. I was given some unique courses such as an introduction to coding, an economics class and a unit on CSI and forensic science. I thought that these classes were all awesome and engaging. My personal favorite was the economics class because the teacher, Mr. Warmbrunn, would give very informative lectures and we started a neat project where we pretended to buy stocks to see how well they would do.

The core courses at Carey were like ours in that they taught English, Math, Science and History. The only major difference was the language course that everyone had to take. The students had the choice between French, Chinese, German and Indonesian. This course was taken as a second language and for most of the students, they had started in Grade 7. We also had, once a week, a class called C-Change, where we would discuss how to develop personal qualities that are important to our well-being and how well we interact with others. This class would finish with a chapel session. With all of these different features in the school, Carey was definitely a great place to attend.

As part of the exchange experience, Lachlan and I, together with the other exchanges and their partners, went to Healesville Sanctuary, which was home to many indigenous Australian animals, including koalas, kangaroos and even platypus. It was remarkable that we could get so close to the animals without them even moving. We even saw some of the world’s most dangerous snakes, which I was happy to see through the glass! My favorite animal was the dingo. The animal is only found in Australia and is half-dog, half-wolf. We caught them right before their morning walk and we took pictures right next to them. It is a beautiful animal and was unlike anything I had ever seen.

With all their great athletic facilities, I was really looking forward to playing a sport at the school. At Carey, everyone has to participate in a sport and since Lachlan plays field hockey, I would try out this sport. I didn’t know anything about the sport and figured it would be similar to ice hockey, a sport that I really enjoy playing, but it was completely different. Everything from the field and the number of players to the sticks and balls were different. The game actually bears a closer resemblance to soccer. Although it took some time to get used to, I had lots of fun playing the sport and was even able to play in 3 games, which was an amazing experience. I was also very surprised to learn that field hockey is one of the largest sports in the world and is played almost everywhere, especially in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Speaking of sports, I also had the opportunity to watch an Australian Rules Football game with Lachlan and his family at the MCG. The game was so entertaining and although I didn’t quite understand the rules, the atmosphere in the stands was incredible. Both teams had a passionate fan base that weren’t afraid to share their sometimes-colourful opinions. The game itself was very fast-paced and finished with a very high point total. This sport seems to combine the best of many different sports that are more common in North America, like rugby, handball and soccer. It was loads of fun!

Spending five weeks in Australia was an incredible experience for me that I will never forget. Although it was difficult to leave my family, I was able to visit Australia and discover its incredible natural life and culture. I also had the chance to take part in some unique classes and meet some really nice people at Carey which was lots of fun, even if it is my summer break. I also believe the exchange has helped me become more mature and responsible as a person. Finally, and most of all, I met a really great friend in my exchange Lachlan and I hope that we will stay in touch and see each other soon. – Andrew Fata ’19 Exchange Student at Carey Baptist Grammar School