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Metis youth experience Indigenous life abroad.

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OTTAWA

Nine Metis youth from across Ontario shared an amazing experience in August, spending two weeks doing volunteer community work in Ecuador.

Through a partnership with the Metis Nation of Ontario Training Initiatives and Canada World Youth's Global Learner Program, the participants, ranging in age from 18 to 30, embarked on their 14-day adventure on Aug. 10 and returned home on Aug. 24.

Not only did the trip serve as an opportunity for the youth to learn about the Indigenous people of Ecuador, but it also gave them a chance to share Metis culture, history, traditions and values with the people that they met.

The participants were paired up and placed with Ecuadorian host families in Otavalo, a community famous for having the largest outdoor Indigenous market in South America,

"So we happened to be staying right in that community, which was really special," said Ginny Gonneau, the Metis Nation of Ontario's (MNO) Youth Global Adventure coordinator.

The participants were assigned to work placements in daycares and in English camps where they taught basic English to the people of Otavalo, located just north of Ecuador's capital city, Quito.

"It was a great opportunity for them to learn more about Indigenous cultures, to develop interpersonal skills, meeting new people and trying new experiences," said Gonneau. "The youth also gained experience working with the youth in Indigenous communities abroad and developing capacities as leaders in their communities. That's like the real focus."

While her role on the trip was to supervise the participants, Gonneau also had a chance to sit back and appreciate the pace of Ecuadorian life. "It's very different," she said.

"I took notice of Ecuadorian people. They invest a lot of time in their relationships with family and friends. I think that we could all learn from Ecuadorian people."

"Just taking the time to talk to people and not be so rushed and so on the go. You know, you're falling asleep and you're thinking about all the things you have to do the next day. Well, it's not really like that there. It's really relaxed and I like that. That's personally what I took back, just trying to slow down and sort of live more in the moment," Ginny Gonneau said.

For Gonneau, one of the highlights of the trip was climbing Mount Fuya Fuya, a 4,000 metre peak located 20 kilometres south of Otavalo. It took Gonneau and the other youth close to five hours to scale the peak, and another three hours to climb back down.

"It was a very hard climb, especially with the elevation, but it was pretty awesome," she said.

Gonneau said the decision to arrange a trip to Ecuador was made because of the Quichua Indigenous people who live there. "They're sort of famous in South America," she said.

"There has been a lot written about them because they had this incredible way of adapting to modern ways of life but keeping their culture and traditional ways. They still dress very traditionally and things like that, which is kind of neat."

The trip made quite an impression on the youth participants, Gonneau said. Once they arrived back home, many of them said they wanted to take a course on International Indigenous issues or to go on another exchange and volunteer again in another Indigenous community.

"It really opened people's eyes up to a lot of the similarities, a lot of the cultural differences and a lot of the extreme poverty issues," said Gonneau. "Overall, it was just an eye-opening experience and opportunity to try something that a lot of people never have the opportunity to do, like stay with an Indigenous family in another part of the world. That's pretty rare."

To learn how to get involved with the next Metis Youth Global Adventure, contact Gonneau at 1-800-263-4889 or at ginnyg@metisnation.org.

BY LAURA STEVENS

Birchbark Writer
COPYRIGHT 2006 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Author:Stevens, Laura
Publication:Ontario Birchbark
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:649
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