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Biking Throwback

Here is a fun video recently put together by Gavin Rea, with whom I biked from Vancouver to Inuvik last summer. You can check out my previous post for more details on what we did. Though not focusing on the advocacy side of our journey, this compilation highlights some of our adventures as a team. I had a few good laughs while watching.

I know that I should have posted about my bike expedition months ago, but better late than never, right?

The Give and Take

I finished organizing my room last week, having returned home to Port Moody following my first year of university at UBC. One item in particular dominated the scene: a caribou antler. Hoisting up this huge worn bone brought me back to last summer and to a transformative journey. I biked 1,700 km from Vancouver to Inuvik, NWT with three other students in August 2013. We held environmental leadership workshops along the way in an effort to raise awareness about the effects of climate change while connecting youth across regional divides. As I kept putting away my belongings, I also unpacked what this experience meant to me. Most of all, it is the people I remember. I realized how much lives vary across Canada, how differently the skeletons of our daily expectations fit together.

DSCN2566 saskia allison fieldCommunities in the North have a connection to the land unlike anything I’ve experienced in Metro Vancouver. For instance, in our workshops, we asked youth to name their favourite place outdoors. Several of my urban peers cited Tynhead Regional Park in Surrey. By contrast, a Gwich’in boy at Inuvik’s brightly coloured youth centre described his family’s whale camp, where he helped shoot a Beluga last July. In the Yukon’s Pelly Crossing, teenagers commented on a new bug that they had noticed arrived along with warming temperatures. A generous couple in Fort McPherson invited us into their home for tea and to admire their freezer filled with handpicked cloudberries. I was in awe. Environmental educators in my city would do a lot to inspire this kind of attention to nature. Southerners and urbanites especially have much to gain from talking to Northerners. Continue Reading »

Poverty and Urban Planning

The Vancouver School of Economics also published a version of this article. 

As Assistant to the President for the UBC Economics Student Association, I organized a Livability in Vancouver Conference for Economics students and Downtown Eastiside (DTES) residents on January 25th. It proved to be a thought-provoking day for me as much as the fifty attendees.

Through a range of panels, we worked to promote an understanding of poverty and economic development in the DTES, the poorest postal code in Canada. We also sought to foster conversations between different parties around the road to livability. We began with a welcome ceremony by an aboriginal elder, then continued with words from community groups, a business improvement association, City of Vancouver urban planners, academics, DTES residents and students.

jpeg_ESAConf_Chris-DTESI learned to look beyond the cement and unpredictable pedestrians of East Hastings Street to the deeper textures of the human experience within the address V6A. Around a table and armed with leaflets, several non-profits in the area offered their views. They helped me to better see the challenges of this neighbourhood, but also its assets, which are too often overlooked. Representatives of Mission Possible and the Carnegie Community Action Project described the training programs and workshops they offer. Yet even more importantly, they shared their own perspectives. Jordan Berner and Jean Swanson both emphasized the sense of community and lack of judgment integral to the culture of the DTES. In few other places do homeless people feel accepted. Continue Reading »

This article is posted from my 2013 Student on Ice Arctic Expedition. I spent two weeks learning about the Arctic while travelling aboard a ship from Greenland to Nunavut with scientists, Arctic leaders, politicians, and other youth. 

WWF Canada also published this article in their latest Living Planet Magazine

As a 17-year old Greenlandic student, Maria Suersaq is keenly aware of life in the rugged country SOI is traversing. We’ve visited three brightly painted coastal communities so far. She grew up in Qaanaaq, a town of 700 people. Today, mixing tradition and modern life has produced both challenges and opportunities for her hometown and Greenland as a whole.

Arctic 2013Many historic activities remain a part of the current calendar. Maria has travelled across the land and ice to “hunt reindeer and seals, among other animals.” Like in the town of Umanaaq, sled dogs are common in her community, outnumbering people. At special events, drumming and singing bring together neighbours. “Qaanaaq is small enough that everyone knows each other.” Maria reflects with appreciation. Continue Reading »

impossible2Possible also published this reflection in their newsletter.

This morning, as I ran along the muddy trails surrounding my Vancouver home, I could still feel the grit of Kalahari sand in my shoes. Only a week ago, I instead followed the rural roads of Botswana, Africa where I spent the first sixteen days of November on an impossible2Possible expedition. With six other Youth Ambassadors from across North America and a diverse team of inspiring ultra-marathoners and educators involved in I2P, I ran 182 kilometers in four days. Between our two running groups, we crossed a combined total of 367 kilometres. We also communicated with faraway classrooms about the region’s water issues. The challenge of running such a distance, the harshness of the arid landscape, the dedication of everyone involved and the ultimate joy we shared have influenced me more than any other experience in my life so far. Together, they taught me the power of the human spirit.

We travelled through many parts of Botswana during our two weeks in the country: exploring the Kalahari Desert, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan and the Okavango Delta. To reach our different running regions, we bumped across rugged dirt roads in the backs of open-sided pick-up trucks refitted with seats. This conspicuous convoy attracted attention from excited kids and curious farmers alike in every village we passed. We grinned and waved back. Our guides cooked us dinner over coals each night, usually serving up a variation of beef and butternut squash. Meanwhile, we set up our circle of tents in grassy fields. We crossed camp carefully, wary of scorpions, camel spiders and cow patties. Without showers, we all became progressively smellier in solidarity. Sweat formed patterns of crystallized salt on our black shirts: abstract African art. Still, along with everyone else, I learned to appreciate the stark and stunning expanses of Botswana, which are so different from any of our North American homes. Continue Reading »

Learning about Botswana

Earlier this month, Habaudi burst through my front door with a friendly grin and rows of braided black hair spraying into tight frizz behind her head. She arrived at my suburban Port Moody home from Botswana wearing a double layer of sweaters to compensate for the temperature transition. For three days, our house would serve as a stepping-stone before she ferried to Vancouver Island to begin her second year of education abroad at Pearson, the United World College my twin sister attends.

Her emailed request to my mother for a host family landed as a lucky coincidence, given my approaching impossible2Possible expedition across her homeland. As I mentioned previously, I will be running an ultra-marathon through Botswana with a group of other youth ambassadors, studying water issues along the way and sharing our discoveries with classrooms. That first night, while Habaudi searched for her pajamas, her assorted clothes overflowed from her suitcase onto my bedroom floor. Her surge of stories, though, filled the space much more than did her shirts.

Our conversations flowed easily. During her only full day in Vancouver, the two of us drifted through the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition of Matisse and Modern Masters. Between his figures and fruit captured in still paint, she brought to life her childhood in hushed words and emphatic gestures. Her former existence ebbed and flowed to the rhythm of the light. She grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing. When she read too often after dark by the glow of a lamp, her father scolded her selfishness for burning their monthly supply of paraffin. Instead of Facebook updates or Desperate Housewives episodes, her family spent their nights conversing together. Though she mingled in the dirt of the streets with the local youth, many neighbors accused her parents of being snobs for keeping their children in school. Her face tensed at this reflection. Continue Reading »

Bird Days

As I flew through the stratosphere several kilometers above the prairies a week ago, I finished reading the North American Banding Council’s Study Guide in preparation for nine days of ornithology. The plane’s heavy metal frame took me as close to airborne as my featherless shoulder blades would ever let me reach. Soon, however, I would be experiencing flight vicariously through the birds of Ontario’s Long Point Bird Observatory.

I arrived at LPBO’s rickety reception building two hours after abandoning Toronto’s smog and traffic in favour of the lakeside forests of Southern Ontario, transitioning through fields of tobacco and alfalfa in the truck of the banding station’s coordinator. Once I stepped past the disorganized mudroom, the eager smiles of six other teens greeted me from a sunken couch; their alert faces upturned like those of fledglings. Each year, Bird Studies Canada offers six biology-focused Canadian youth the Doug Tarry Award to attend the Young Ornithologist’s Workshop (this year they accepted an extra student). It would be a week feathered with discovery. Continue Reading »