Tashayna Peters fell in love with Zambia.
Growing up as part of the N’Quatqua band in D’arcy she had “never been anywhere” before, she said. But when she came across a posting for a volunteer position in the African country with an organization called Victoria International
Development Education Association (VIDEA), during a college prep course, she was intrigued. With some encouragement from her learning facilitator with the course, she applied and was accepted.
For four and a half months she worked as a youth outreach coordinator, facilitating a youth group and connecting with kids. “It felt like a year,” she said, two years later back at home in D’arcy. “It was definitely a life-changing experience. I came home with a totally different perspective… Reverse culture shock was worse than culture shock. I didn’t feel like the same person. I had a life over there. I loved it. I had so many friends. I loved my coworkers and roommates.”
It wasn’t long before she decided she wanted to put some of the skills she learned overseas to work in her own community. With VIDEA, who hired her as a local coordinator, she helped start a weekly group to empower young women — around ages 14 and 15 — from D’arcy and Mt. Currie. For about a year, around 12 girls have met at Pemberton Secondary School and learned everything from photography to video editing to traditional First Nations’ activities. They have also created a blog to put their new skills to work. (Read it at http://walkingwithwisdomblog.wordpress.com/”http://walkingwithwisdomblog.wordpress.com.) They have also been on two trips to Victoria (where VIDEA is based) to meet with aboriginal mentors and visited Whistler together.
“I think they definitely have more confidence,” said Peters. “It can be stressful planning stuff like this, but they make it worth it. They’re still young, trying to figure out what they want to do. Their comfort zone is getting bigger.”
Kashmir Moorhouse, one of the members of the group, agreed. “It has made an impact on my life because I have met new people and tried new things,” she wrote in an email. “I have gained confidence in myself and felt the need to help others find that in themselves. It just made me a happier and better person.”
It can be tough in a small community that’s far away from a major hub to step outside your comfort zone and see opportunities. That’s part of the group’s purpose said Meaghan Hume, a project coordinator with VIDEA. “We’re seeing the girls seeing themselves as able to have these kinds of futures that they might not have been able to see for themselves otherwise,” she said. “After the trips (they) reported a great desire to go to university. They have a greater understanding that they’re capable, that the path is there for them.”
Peters said she’s witnessed that transformation too. “I want this group to continue without me, eventually,” she said. “I just want them to be on the right path. There are so many obstacles—not just for the girls, just on the reserve. We don’t have many opportunities. Going to Zambia was such an eye-opening experience for me and I want the same for the girls. I want them to travel and go out and experience the world and I want to help them to gain the tools they need and not be scared. If you put your mind to something, anything is possible.”