Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Local student going on eco-mission

As a first-year nursing student at the University of Manitoba, helping others is a focus of Jilayne Derksen’s life.
But this May, the Fort Frances teen will travel to South Africa and Swaziland on a eco-mission trip to help those living in the developing country.

“I was in a lecture one day at school and someone came around handing out these flyers,” Derksen recalled.
“I just saw it and thought it would be a great adventure.
“I’ve always wanted more volunteer opportunities because it’s great to help out while getting to see different parts of the world and different cultures,” she reasoned.
Derksen was selected to join the Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (Vesabroad) program, which aims to help indigenous people of remote villages in Africa improve their living conditions and the education of their children.
“I’m really excited because the two-week program is focused on volunteering, with an adventure aspect,” she remarked, adding she’ll be working on a variety of volunteer projects while there.
“I will be working with children in an orphanage teaching English and basic sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition, as well as constructing houses, sustainable farming units, and methods of clean water supply,” she explained.
“I will also be working with National Parks Authority and local wildlife refuges on conservation projects,” Derksen said.
“It’s really interesting,” she enthused. “I think we’ll get to learn a lot about preservation.”
This likely will include working within the wetlands area in the observation, capture, and release of crocodiles, the counting of crocodile eggs, as well as feeding and cleaning the enclosures of the smaller crocs and alligators.
Derksen also might assist staff at the Emdoneni cat rehab centre, which helps endangered wild cat species.
Towards the end of the program, Derksen said there are a couple days of days dedicated to adventuring—offering activities such as going on a safari, snorkelling, or white-water rafting.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this because I’ve heard of others who have had these opportunities,” she enthused.
“It just sounds so exciting. . . .
“I feel like I’m so blessed, and so I want to give back and help other people who might not be as fortunate.”
Vesabroad offers eco-mission trips to Africa, Fiji, and the Amazon, but it was Africa that Derksen wanted to experience the most.
“I just thought that out of those three, Africa is the most different; the most new to me,” she reasoned.
“And I wanted to try something very new.”
While Derksen will be traveling with a group of people, she doesn’t know anyone who is going with her.
And since it’s not a Canadian program, she’s likely to be traveling with students from the U.S., Europe, or even Australia.
“I’m excited to be able to know that I’ve done something that has helped someone else,” she remarked.
“And also to meet all of these new people—the ones I’m travelling with and those that I will meet when I get there.
“I just want to see how other people live their lives because you don’t realize how excluded you are up here,” she added.
Derksen will be raising funds to help cover the costs involved in participating in the program.
These include hiring local skilled tradespeople to supervise and assist in the building projects, building materials, and donations to local organizations.
Derksen, as well as the others, will complete a minimum of 40 hours of hands-on, community-based volunteer work.
“The efforts of the students make a real, positive difference to the village people, who live in conditions that are hard and often lacking in basic amenities such as fresh running water,” noted Vesabroad founder Shona Luciani.
“By teaching the youngsters basic English, we are also helping enable them to communicate with the wider world and empowering them to improve their own lives,” she added.
Derksen, meanwhile, is hopeful her experience in South Africa and Swaziland will be the start of something greater for her.
“My nursing professor has talked about ‘Nurses Without Borders,’” she explained.
“I’ve always thought that if I tried this out, and really liked it, that [‘Nurses Without Borders’] would be an amazing goal for my future—to get to help people in different situations who aren’t as fortunate.
“I’m sure I’m going to have an amazing time—I really love just being able to help and care for others!” she exclaimed.
Derksen has created a profile on, which allows people to offer donations online.
Those interested can visit the site and search for her name under volunteers.
She also can be reached via e-mail at

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