Project Report Sophie Whiteside

This summer I went to British Columbia in Canada to do a Round Square International Service Project that was a little over 3 weeks. I arrived home and then had to a number of journeys to different businesses who were supporting me going on this project. I also had to do a lot of packing and shopping for my equipment. I was home for a week and a half and then Daddy, Mummy, Triona and I travelled down to Dublin in the early hours of the morning (getting up at quarter to 3 in the morning!!). We drove for about 3 hours up to the airport and then I got checked in. We had some breakfast and had a leisurely wait before I went through security. Security didn’t take too long. I was very excited to be travelling by myself as I’ve never done it to this extent (only travelling from home to school). I have family who live in Ontario so I was flying into Toronto on the 15th August, spending a few days with them, flying to Vancouver in British Columbia where I would meet up with the rest of the group. I was flying with Air Canada, so I wondered if I would have the big planes. The planes that I use for travelling to school are the ones with the propellers and no TVS. I didn’t even know airplanes had TVs. I always thought the air hostesses did the safety brief, not the TV!!

The flight to Toronto was at 1045 so we had lots of time to spare when we arrived at the airport. I got through security quite quickly. I thought they would ask me questions about me travelling. The flight was 7 hours and 20 minutes long. We had a projector screen at the front, and we were given ear phones so that we could listen to the film and radio. The films there put in for us was A Thousand Words, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the new version of Flashdance. I also read during the flight as well as I wasn’t sure how reading I would be able to do on the Project. I needed to read a novel as part of my English Literature A2 Course. I was reading the French Lieutenant’s Woman.

I spent the few days in Ontario meeting my extended family who I have never met. I had to go through customs when I arrived in Toronto and I had to wait in a huge queue. There was a huge line for people coming into Canada. I was absolutely shattered and I had to wait for about 30-40 minutes. At the time it was 1330 in Toronto and 1830 in UK. Finally I got through customs and got my baggage and I had family waiting for me at the gate.

The few days I was Ontario I did a little shopping with family. I also visited a Tim Horton’s which is Canada’s version of Starbucks. I was quite surprised at how cheap Canada was to the UK. The prices of products are about the same price but if you take into account the exchange rate it is a lot cheaper! The time difference between the UK and Toronto is 5 hours. Toronto is forward. I found it very difficult to stay awake the day I arrived (partly because of the hour difference, but also because I had been up from 3 in the morning). The first night I slept until midday but I was so thankful for the nice sleep!

I travelled to Vancouver on Tuesday which is 3 hours forward from Toronto. When I was waiting for my baggage, the Project Leader David McLellan came up to me. He had a piece of paper on a clipboard which said ‘Round Square Canada Project’, I recognised David immediately from the picture that I had seen of him from the Canada Information Pack I had been given before the Project. We arrived at the Hostel where we would be spending the night and then getting up very early the next day to catch a flight to Smithers, which is Northern British Columbia. We got to have a small breakfast from Tim Horton’s or Starbucks. The flight to Smithers was about an hour and 40 minutes. Once we arrived, we were met by Thom Henley. Thom Henley is an environmental and human rights advocate, lecturer and author. He has been to over 135 countries which is incredible!! A lot of students were very tired. They had jet lag, especially the students from Germany and Australia. I was okay because I had had the couple days rest on Ontario. We had a look round the Smithers area and Thom took us of to some waterfalls which was very exciting. After that, we got on the bus and travelled to Soaring Spirits Camp where a nice warm dinner was waiting for us!! Everyone had an early night as we were all exhausted!!

Over the next coming days, we did a mixture of activities such as drum-making and team building exercises which was very cool. We got to know each other so well even after only a few days, I couldn’t believe it!! I got attached to the two girls from France, Alexandra and Laetitia. Alexandra and I would always start singing, it became a habit!! We would Val’s (our amazing cook) entertainment while we were washing the dishes!! Val loved it!! Although, there were times we didn’t know the lyrics so we would just mumble the tune which made us laugh our heads off!!

The drum-making was incredible! We made the drums from elk skin, stretched it around a wooden ring. We tightened the skin round the wooden ring used sinue string. It took a huge amount of strength to tighten it, especially round the end when we had the make the sides smooth. I think it’s fair in saying blood and sweat went into making this drum!! Once we had tightening it, we had to wait a few days to let it dry. Once it was dry, we sanded it down to make it smooth and then drew our designs on it. My design means Great Spirit and I also drew on a shamrock for Irish luck!!

What we were doing on the Project was building a hiking trail on the Seven Sisters Mountains. Where we were doing the trail was inaccessible because of landslides and trees falling down which made it very unsafe. A couple of rangers came and helped us. We weren’t allowed to use the chainsaws for safety reasons, but I helped the rangers with the logs for a couple of days. They would cut them and then I would move them out of the way (by myself I may add!! Some of the logs were pretty heavy to carry and move but I managed it!!). The rest of my group would follow behind me and they would evaluate the trail to see if we needed to widen it by digging into the ground, dig up any roots, make any switchbacks or bridges. We were divided into 4 different groups and each group would work at a different part of the trail. There was one day that one group was known as the crippled group because every member of that group had an injury of some kind; whether it was a sore back, leg or arm. We called them the crippled group; even the group leader had an injury. It was an amazing week and I had so much fun! It was a lot of hard work as there were very steep hills to climb before we even started work!! But as the week went on, it got easier to hike up. I think my experience from doing Expeds and being in MR made a very strong hiker, the strongest in my group. Andrew, the deputy leader was quite impressed and allowed me to take the lead in a lot of our work. For example, a lot of the boys in my group didn’t know how to use a shovel properly so I showed them how to do that, as well as Andrew gave me the walkie talkie (or as the French girls said, “talkie walkie”!) for the group so when I went on by myself to help with the rangers, we could communicate with each other. For example, on one occasion we needed another hand so I communicated back to Andrew and asked him to send a person to help. I learnt how to use a pilaskey which was very exciting. On one occasion Andrew left me to dig into the ground the path bigger while he went round the corner to help with the rest of the group. I felt proud that he was able to trust me and he came back about 10 minutes and he couldn’t believe how much work I had done. He was very impressed by me and he made it known to the rest of the group and David back at the camp.

We also built a council fire shelter for the local Kitwanga First Nations Community as they had no place where children anyone could meet up together. We had a lovely carpenter who designed the shelter for us. We had a bonfire pit in the middle with benches around it with a circular wall, and a cone shaped roof. We painted the pieces of wood which everyone quite enjoyed. I don’t think I’ve ever done such a huge amount of painting before!! On the first day we had to dig the holes for the wooden poles. The holes had to be very deep but I was quite impressed by my hole. There were some very big rocks at the bottom of the hole. A lot of people (including myself!!) got stuck in the hole. Only our legs were showing. We used tar and concrete to secure the poles into the ground. We also cleaned up the ground about us from rubbish to make it look nicer. There was an adorable puppy that would come to our worksite. We weren’t sure where it came from, but it always came back. The puppy sometimes would walk across the dug holes and fall into the hole, and then we would have to pick him out – he did that a lot!! We also went to the local school where we met some adorable children. They were so inviting to us and we could really tell that we had touched their hearts, as tey had done to us as well.

On our Mid-Project Break, we travelled up to Alaska and camped at a small town called Stewart. This was proper camping, although we did have public showers and toilets. We were going bear watching in Alaska. We crossed the border to America which the Americans on our trip quite happy, although the first thing we noticed about the America was the dirt roads!! All the way up the border line on the Canadian side it was nice and smooth, and then after the border it was dirt roads from then on. We were also going to see totem poles and glacier watching which was incredible. We went to the Fish Creek Wildlife Site in Alaska to watch salmon, bald eagles and bears. There was a stream that ran through it so we were able to see the salmon, and then every day we actually saw brown bears!! It was amazing. The staff said that to see a bear would be a treat, as lots and lots of people come here every day all day to see if they can see any bears, and they leave without seeing any. So we were very lucky!! We even saw a mother with her cubs! The cubs were so small and sweet! We also travelled along the dirt road and stopped when we came across a glacier. They were incredible!! It was a little cold. We had lunch right next to one. I discovered that Canada our crisps chips which really confused me!! They also produce Tomato Ketchup Chips which were so nice!! I wish we had them in the UK!!

We also went on a 3-day canoe trip down the Skeena and Kispiox River. We were supposed to have had two Canadian canoe boats, each with one skipper but unfortunately one of the skippers hurt their back before the trip so he was unable to come, and it was Holiday Weekend so we couldn’t find a replacement. Therefore we had only one boat so we had to share the trip. The first group would paddle, stop, get out, and then the boat would be driven back to the start point where the second group and then they would paddle. While the other group were paddling, the others would walk a distance to make up for waiting for the boat. The water was quite fast. We had a lot of rapids which we had to paddle very strong through. A lot of the girls didn’t like how wet they were getting, but I just carried on. I have a lot of experience with canoeing and I found it quite fun getting wet. We weren’t even getting that wet and the rapids were the best!!

Halfway through the Project, we had an unexpecting but exciting surprise for us. We learnt that the local First Nations Community had gone fishing, their first of their year, and gave us 100 fresh salmon from the Skeena River. We had to skin them, and then cut the heads and tails off them. Wade Charlie was in charge of that. He was from Vancouver Island and he was one of the First Nations youth who were helping us. His son Eli came well who is 14. I got on very well with Eli and Wade. Wade is a very cool, very funny guy and he got on well with everyone. Wade needed some help for the salmon. At this time we were still working on the trail, so we had one group go off the trail for the day while everyone else stayed at camp. I was part of the group that went to work on the trail. We got a lot of work done there, as did the salmon group. Even the vegetarians skinned a salmon or two!! Wade needed help that night with the smoking of the salmon, and the pressure cooking so because I missed the skinning and cutting, I wanted to help with the smoking. Eli, Jonah and Gavin (more First Nation youth) helped as well. I did the pressure cooking myself while Eli, Gavin and Wade started the fire for the salmon. I was quite impressed with myself because I thought I kept quite calm about it, listening to everything Wade told me to make sure I did it right, and I DID!! After the pressure cooking, Wade went to sleep in his tent right beside the smokehouse while Eli, Jonah and I went to the smokehouse. Gavin had already fallen asleep in the kitchen. Wade gave us his laptop to watch a film to keep us entertained. After a while, Eli and Jonah fell asleep. I stayed up the whole night watching the fire and watching a couple of movies on Wade’s laptop. At around 5 o’clock Wade woke up from having a couple of hours sleep and then we went to get some food and drink from the kitchen. The Grounds looked so lovely at this time. There was a little mist around which made it look very magical. The salmon looked amazing! Everyone was quite impressed with me because I had managed to do a full day’s work on the trail as well as a salmon watch all night! I was so tired the next day though. I went to the trail but I stayed at the bottom and I slept in the back the rangers’ pickup trunk which was actually quite comfortable even though it had a bear sprays and tools in it!!

On the last night we had a big dinner party. The Chief of the Kitwanga community came with his family and friends. We had a camp fire where we passed the feather round (it was a ritual we did that only that person who had the feather could speak and we would pass round the circle) where everyone just talked about our experience over the past few weeks. It was very emotional. We sang a couple of tunes and danced for the Chief as well to finish the evening.

We travelled back to Vancouver the next day in the early morning. We woke up to thunder and lightning which, when you are camping in tents, is very scary. It was so loud. There was one bit of lightning which came from right behind us. Our tent was white and so we could see it through the tent. After that, the thunder came. It was so loud!! We all screamed our heads off, it was so scary!! We all thought a tree had fallen down by the sound of the thunder!! After that, I just took all my bags and got out of there as fast as my legs could carry me! But I had my PLASTIC yellow helmet which we used for working on, so I thought that as long as I’m wearing my yellow helmet I am safe!! We left to a glorious rainbow though to see us off!!

After we arrived back in Vancouver, we spent the day on Granville Island. Granville Island is very populated tourist attraction. It felt so weird to be back in civilisation. We all treated ourselves to purely rubbish food: burger and chips because we had gone without that for so long. We were fed extremely well so we thought we had to be outrageous!! It was sad to think that we would be leaving everyone and not seeing them for a very, long time if we ever saw them again! Everyone was saying that they would be home in such and such hours, and it got me thinking that I won’t be. I was staying a couple of days more with my family in Ontario. While I was on Ontario, they took me to see the Niagara Falls which was brilliant! It is so spectacular, I would encourage anyone to go see it.

Being on a RS Project is so eye-opening. It is the best thing I have ever done. I don't think I've ever got on with so many people from around the world from only knowing them a few weeks. I would to go back to Canada because it is such a beautiful country. We had the Seven Sisters mountains right beside us and we would always watch them. They would sometimes glow red because of the sunset on the snow. I would like to thank Round Square and Thom Henley for organising such a brilliant project but also Mr Ince for helping me so much to take part in the project.