Participants of the Canada World Youth Sooke-South Africa team have been living in the area for about two weeks, readying themselves for future work placements and community involvement.
The Sooke News Mirror caught up with two of the program participants to find out their first impressions of Vancouver Island and what they hope to gain from their experience living and volunteering on the West Coast.
Lebo Tsiutu, 24, originally from Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa, is a graduate of Cape Town University with a major in International Relations.
“I joined the program because I wanted to challenge myself with something and I wanted to like a cultural exchange,” Tsuitu said. “I also joined the program because I wanted to make a difference to my community in South Africa.”
She also hopes to learn more about Canadian culture and history.
Hailing from Toronto, Abni Rego, 22, is young graduate from the University of Toronto with a degree in History.
As a new graduate, Ergo signed up for the cultural exchange program to do some soul searching.
“I wanted to do something that was completely different than anything I’d experienced before, and this totally opened my eyes to a new direction for my life after the program,” she said, adding she hopes to learn more about First Nations history and culture.
“I’m really excited to get involved with the T-Sou-ke Nation and learn more about them.”
Both women had positive impressions when they arrived in Sooke, and stated residents have welcomed them with open arms. They also marvelled at Sooke’s pristine and rugged wilderness.
“For me, coming from South Africa, I thought I was coming home to Canada, and I discovered a whole different culture and a whole different way of life,” Rego said. “I’m from a big city, and it’s so exciting to be in a community where people know each other.”
Along with volunteering at local not-for-profit establishments, the Sooke-South Africa team will be fundraising for Beyond Schools, an after school program in the Cape Flats region of South Africa that will address youth violence, gangsterism and substance abuse.
After living in the Cape Flats area for about three months during the first phase of the program, both Tsiutu and Rego agreed there is a need for Beyond Schools.
“Currently in South Africa we have a lot of challenges sending kids to school, so I think through that program we’ll be able to lay out a foundation for little kids to be able to get the proper education,” Tsiutu said.
The Sooke-South Africa team consists of 17 youth from across Canada and South Africa. Prior to their arrival in Sooke on Dec. 6, the team was in Athlones and Bonnievale for about three months.