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

The Privilege of an Education

Meghan_Fersten_Blog_005Last summer, I travelled to China on a trip organized by Me to We, a non-governmental organization which helps create sustainable change by transforming local and global communities. J’ai voyagé avec sept autres étudiants autour de mon âge venant de Montréal et New York, ainsi que deux animateurs de Me to We. From my past experiences at the Round Square conference in Argentina last year, as well as volunteering in the local community, I was always interested in community service. However, I can honestly tell you that this trip changed my life.

Meghan_Fersten_Blog_001Nous avons passé nos premiers jours à Beijing en visitant des sites bien connus, tels que Tiananmen Square, des temples Buddistes, et nous avons même monté la Grande Muraille de Chine! Nous avons ensuite conduit pendant plus de six heures à une communauté rurale, Gufubao. It was a relief to finally be away from the pollution and smog of Beijing, and beautiful is not a good enough word to describe where we were. Nous étions complètement entourés d’énormes montagnes et des champs de maïs. It was really amazing for us to meet the kind locals, who take great pride in their natural environment, regardless of the extreme poverty that they live in. In addition, they always ensure that their environment is being taken care of, by being cautious of how much water and food they consume, as well as constantly making sure that their agriculture is properly cultivated and protected. Some locals even took us on hikes around the community, where we saw some unbelievable views.

Meghan_Fersten_Blog_003Pendant dix jours, nous avons enseigné l’anglais à des enfants défavorisés, et nous avons travaillé sur la construction d’un enclos pour des cochons, la première source de revenue pour la communauté. L’école était un bâtiment de briques avec trois salles de classe et un petit terrain de jeu dehors, les deux construits par Me to We. Lorsque nous sommes arrivés, nous avons été accueillis par une cinquantaine d’élèves, âgés entre cinq et 12 ans, qui étaient très contents de nous voir. Since it was July, all of these students were in the middle of their summer holiday, so you would think that going to school in 40 degree weather for the entire day was not exactly what they wanted to do, right? Wrong. These kids were more than happy to do so. Puisque les enfants parlaient très peu d’anglais, ils étaient très excités de nous montrer qu’ils pouvaient compter de un à 10, et qu’ils connaissaient les couleurs de l’arc-en-ciel.

Meghan_Fersten_Blog_006Why did I choose to write about teaching English to students in China? Well, we later learned that only 1% of students who have attended the school in Gufubao go on to university. That’s only seven or eight students at LCC progressing to CEGEP or college. Think about that for a second: all of the hard work that we put into our studies every day would only pay off for seven or eight of us in the Junior, Middle and Senior Schools combined!

We’re so lucky to go to LCC, with its amazing education programs and opportunities, inside and outside the classroom. Seeing how much the students in Gufubao appreciated going to school made me reflect on how I see education. Now, I go to school every day wanting to learn more. I’m excited to see where my education will take me, so I can use it to make a difference. Going to school is a privilege, and I think it’s important for everyone to realize that, just like I have. – Meghan Fersten ’18

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

Rowing on the Yarra River in Melbourne, Australia

Yarra RiverAfter school on October 26, I was really nervous because I was about to go rowing. The team needed a cox (the person who steers the boat, gives commands, and is usually small in stature), so I volunteered to do it. I decided to try it because rowing is THE sport to do, with training six times a week and so challenging that kids drop out every year. I thought it would be a great experience, plus I’d be navigating a boat through the famous Yarra River in the heart of Melbourne. I was also nervous because maybe I’d crash the boat!

At the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club, everyone got dressed in their skin-tight outfits, with their Carey School caps and flip-flops. They also put on sunscreen under their clothes even though it was cold and cloudy. I wore my gym clothes, flip-flops, my Montreal Expos hat, and borrowed my friend Quinn’s Carey spray-jacket.

We walked downstairs into this huge room with the boats. They were like kayaks, but thinner. The 12 grade 9 rowers got together, and Nathan, the adult coach, split them up into two boats, one with four rowers, and one with eight. I was in the boat with eight rowers. Nathan talked to us about motivation and what we want to work on. The boys then went in the boat room, lifted up the boat, and placed it in the Yarra River.

The river was cold and very polluted – the water was brown. The water was up to my ankles before I could get in. I didn’t have a lot of space, sitting in my mini-chair with my feet facing toward Ben, who was providing the commands to say. I had my headset on, which was plugged into the boat, and there are speakers next to each person. Each rower had one oar, the first on the right, the next left, and so on. I wasn’t as nervous, other than the fact that eight huge guys were facing me and I was the only one who could see where we’re going. I loved talking to the guys, and every now and then I said something to keep the boys motivated, such as, “Let’s go boys!”

I was pretty good at steering the boat, with the two strings, one on each side of me. Coach Nathan was following in a motorboat and telling the boys, through a loudspeaker, what type of row to do. There was one time when I accidentally brought us close to a wall under the bridge because a boat was coming on the other side, but we didn’t crash.

As we got further into the training, they starting rowing – all eight at the same time – as if it was a race. Passing by all these skyscrapers, restaurants, and people watching and pointing at us as we went by, I realized how amazing this was. I was an exchange student from Canada navigating eight rowers on the Yarra River through Melbourne!

All the kids at Carey said they hate rowing because it’s so hard, but I had so much fun. At some point, we turned around, which wasn’t difficult. That’s when we started passing the girls and the older boys. Also, when we were on the river, we saw three different helicopters. One landed right next to us and the powerful wind generated from its blades caused water to lift and spray on us!

On the way back, I steered us perfectly so that we could put our feet on the ground when getting out. They then lifted up the boat out of the water and cleaned it inside and out, before placing it in its spot in the boat house. We all went outside to get our post-practice talk from Nathan and then got changed.

Now, it’s 10:08 pm and here I am in bed about to fall asleep. I have to say that today was an exciting day! Good night! – Max Miller ‘20, Exchange Student at Carey Baptist Grammar School