Despite the cold, I’m really enjoying myself at McGill this semester. I am beginning to feel very comfortable in my new apartment, taking classes I really enjoy and just learning so much about the world. Montreal is a great city, and I’ve met some amazing people, so it feels pretty good to have found my place…I’m still working on the French, though.
Apart from school, I’ve been getting really involved with a club called Nourish International. It is an organization across US college campuses (we started the first Canadian chapter) that engages students to be part of the solution to extreme poverty. It has been a great experience, particularly through learning how to find creative solutions to our problems. We’ve started small businesses on campus and around Montreal in order to have a sustainable and long-lasting impact on development projects abroad. For example, to raise money for these projects, we have begun an initiative to sell affordable and healthy lunches of chili and cornbread in a student lounge on campus, which is a sustainable, profitable venture we can hold once per week. We have also held “coffee houses,” bringing people together through music, sharing talents, and baked goods, as well as thrift clothing sales and big parties around the city. I was also in charge of contacting grassroots organizations, educating members about current poverty issues around the world, organizing local volunteering at homeless shelters with the group, and I am the co-leader for our project in Peru this summer. In addition, I put on a big event in February called “Funk ‘n Waffles” at a local bar—they let us sell hundreds of waffles as well as tie-dye shirts we made, and with the DJs we provided, there was enough funky music to keep everyone dancing until almost 3 am.
Throughout the year, our small club raised over $15,000! All of the money will be donated to the sustainable community development project we have been planning with the grassroots organization Project Amazonas, based out of Iquitos, Peru, in the middle of the Amazon. The many small indigenous communities that live along the rivers of the Amazon are largely without healthcare and medical supplies, and Project Amazonas runs several “boat clinics” that can bring care directly to the communities. It is a really fantastic organization, and they have recently been building a big health clinic at their Madre Selva Biological Station. However, many of the traditional healing practices of these communities have fallen behind in the process, and that’s another place where we come in! We will be working with three different communities that have knowledge of traditional herbal medicine to establish a medicinal herb garden on the grounds of the clinic and learn about their healing practices. In addition, each community has a school where we will help to establish a tree nursery and education program. We hope to help them recapture this rich aspect of their culture that is at risk of disappearing, as well as help create a sense of value for the trees.
I will be in Peru with a team of six of my friends and colleagues for six weeks this summer to put this mutually beneficial project into action, and hopefully, we will perfect our Spanish while we’re at it!