Rather than simply educate her students about the crisis in Attawapiskat, Brock lecturer Sherri Vansickle hoped to inspire them to create change.
As part of her Indigenous Culture and Early Childhood Education course, Vansickle introduced a social justice component that encouraged her students to make a difference in the Northern Ontario community.
Home to about 2,000 people, Attawapiskat has long been in a vulnerable state, but was recently plagued by suicides that have left the community in crisis.
Vansickle, with Brock’s Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, shared history of the area with her students, in addition to also addressing residential schools, systemic racism and the poverty that exists in indigenous communities.
In January, the class decided to launch a campaign to collect clothing, hygiene products and school and medical supplies to ship to children, adults and seniors in Attawapiskat.
The donations were rounded up Thursday night and divided into care packages to be shipped north later this month. About 25 large boxes of goods were collected.
“The intent wasn’t to go out and buy things, it was to engage people in your circle — friends, family, co-workers — and to spread awareness about Attawapiskat,” said third-year Early Childhood Education student Susan Lepore.
Many of the people Lepore approached knew little about the indigenous community and the living conditions that have left its population in a vulnerable state.
“It’s about spreading the message one person at a time,” she said, adding many people were eager to contribute once they learned more about the cause.
Fellow ECE student Courteney Baxter made a Facebook page and a passionate plea urging people to donate to the campaign.
“I felt I had to raise that awareness,” she said. “You hear about things like this happening overseas, but to have it happening within our province is shocking to me.”
Lepore believes the initiative will have a lasting impact on her career working with children.
“It showed us that you have to be the change you want to see in the world,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t know how to help, how to take that first step. We can be that first step.”
Vansickle believes there was significant engagement in the project in part because students were given the reins and allowed to shape the initiative.
“It’s about having input in your learning journey,” she said. “They began learning about First Nations issues and then had a chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
She’s hopeful her students will continue to seek out opportunities to incite change as they move into the workforce.
On behalf of her class, Vansickle gave thanks to everyone who contributed to the initiative.
For anyone interested in making a donation, support is still needed to assist with the cost of shipping the packages to Attawapiskat.
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