Trip to Ecuador inspires local teen

Heather Latter

On the heels of returning from a volunteer trip to Ecuador, local teen Dexter Fichuk is eager to continue his efforts to help others.
The Grade 12 student will remain head of the Fort Frances Mob(ilizers) group at Fort High this year—a group that spreads the “Me to We” philosophy of creating positive social and environmental impacts in local and global communities.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” Fichuk stressed. “I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.”
During his three-week trip to Ecuador, offered through “Me to We” (a partner of “Free the Children”), Fichuk was able to see poverty first-hand and meet some of the people who are assisted by the “Free the Children” campaigns he has been focusing on all year long.
He also helped to build a school for children without access to education, volunteered within the community, developed life-long skills in leadership and global development workshops, and learned about biodiversity, as well as environmental and development issues there.
However, the 17-year-old noted despite the poverty, the residents of the community were not that different than people here in Rainy River District.
“They were really happy with what they had,” said Fichuk, adding the kids played and had fun just like any other child.
“They have more in common with us than we realize,” he stressed.
Fichuk indicated the residents had a very solid sense of community—something he hopes to develop more in Fort Frances.
“They all work together,” he explained, noting when needed, everyone in the community stopped what they were doing to help build the school.
Fichuk and some of the other “Me to We” volunteers also helped clean up a playground while there.
At one time, noted Fichuk, the area beneath the playground had been a hole where garbage was thrown. Over time, pieces of glass had made their way to the surface.
“It was unacceptable. We wanted them to have a safe place to play,” he remarked, noting that if a child was to fall and cut themselves, the wound could become infected and they wouldn’t be able to receive the proper medication to care for it.
Nonetheless, Fichuk said the rest of the community was clean.
“I felt safe. And the people were really nice,” he noted. “I enjoyed being able to experience something new every day.”
The community he and the other participants stayed in was located on a mountain. He saw how the residents farmed on the hills.
“It had a really high altitude,” he said, admitting it sometimes was difficult to breathe.
“And the UV rays were high . . . so then we were getting sunburns.”
As well, Fichuk had the chance to visit the Amazon rainforest, which was about a three-hour drive away.
He also spent some time picking up souvenirs for family and friends, purchasing items made by locals.
“There are a lot of projects that benefit the community and the people doing them,” he explained, citing a women’s group that makes items out of alpaca wool.
“I’m really glad I was able to have this experience,” he stressed, adding he enjoys helping others and will continue to support “Free the Children.”
One way he’ll be doing that this fall is through selling school T-shirts.
Fort High students who are enrolled in phys. ed. classes must purchase school attire to wear during class. Fichuk was able to convince school administration to purchase from “Free to Children.”
“They are the same price as the other shirts, but these are better,” he remarked, explaining that for every T-shirt purchased, a tree will be planted in one of the developing communities where “Free The Children” works.
In addition, 50 percent of all profits go to “Free The Children” to support development projects in rural and impoverished areas across the globe.
Fichuk said the T-shirts are made of eco-friendly fabrics, and are made in Canada.
“People are not going to notice a difference except that the shirts will be softer—and they will be doing some good in the world,” he reasoned.
“It’s an easy change and it will have a huge impact,” he added, citing he hopes to expand it to other high schools in the district, too.
Fichuk, meanwhile, will continue to organize other “Free the Children” campaigns in the high school, such as taking a “vow of silence” to stand in solidarity with children who are silenced by poverty, disease, and exploitation, as well as collecting non-perishable items for “Hallowe’en for Hunger.”
Select students again will have the opportunity to participate in “We Day” in Winnipeg on Oct. 30.