The YMCA of Christchurch will take more than twenty young people aged 14 – 16, currently excluded from mainstream school, to Nepal on September 18th.
The project, which includes the making of a documentary about the students over a 12 month period, is costing $200,000. A sum which the YMCA thinks is a small overall investment in young people who to date have not had the same opportunities as other young people.
“In a democracy, all children and young people should have equal access to education, health care, enough food to live and a safe place to live. Do we live in a democracy if these students do not have the same access to these things as other students?” Ogden Schroeder asks. “It is time to honestly and courageously look, as a democratic society, at how we support and care for our most vulnerable citizens. If we want to break cycles of violence, abuse and poverty, we need our most vulnerable children to have hope. This is not just the role of agencies or government policies, but the role of everyone who cares about kiwi kids, their futures, and NZ society as a whole.”
Project HOPE is about giving young people from challenging backgrounds, who are highly vulnerable to the effects of poverty, violence, abuse, drugs and alcohol, hope for their own futures. An important aspect of this project is demonstrating to YMCA students that they have something positive and worthwhile to offer others. The development of empathy, and the enforcement of the value of generosity.
Project HOPE is also about giving these young people a voice. This is an opportunity for them to stand up and be counted – but in a good way. This is their chance to not be a negative statistic, but a person with dreams, aspirations, talents and their own story. The documentary is about their journey – in the longest sense of the word. Not just the journey to Nepal, but what has led to their exclusion from school, and what will help them arrive in a place which makes them a good citizen, a great parent, and a contributing member of society.
Because Nepal is so starkly different to their own lives in Christchurch, the YMCA knows that this will be a life-changing, mind-changing and hugely developmental journey for these young people. Something which will have a greater impact on their future choices, their hope for their own futures, and the likelihood of them becoming contributing citizens than any lesson in any classroom here in Christchurch.
In Nepal, an earthquake in 2015 had a devastating effect on the community there. The YMCA students are preparing to assist the YMCA of Nepal in a range of ways, particularly with the children involved in YMCA Nepal programmes who have suffered from the earthquake events, and other aide projects such as painting damaged school buildings.
“This is a youth development story, an earthquake story, and an outreach to another country – all in one. What we think is a win-win. We will help our YMCA friends in Nepal, and by so doing, enrich and change the lives of teenagers here in Christchurch.”
YMCA Alternative Education students were ten years old at the time of the Christchurch earthquakes. They have, like so much of Christchurch, been impacted in a wide variety of ways by those events. Displacement, transient living arrangements, and stress among the negative outcomes.
A film crew is following the students for 12 months. The challenges that the YMCA has faced to enable these kids to journey to Nepal have been immense, and the documentary will shine a light on some of the systemic issues that support a system which largely removes hope from the lives of many poor and struggling families. However, despite many difficulties since the start of the year when this project began, YMCA staff remain determined to succeed.
The YMCA is inviting individuals and businesses to come on board – launching their fundraising campaign this month in an attempt to raise $100,000 before September 1st. “The support from mainstream society sends a strong message to our students about others trusting them to make positive changes in their lives – for example their dedicated teachers, and sponsorship from businesses such as Kathmandu.” Ogden Schroeder said. Kathmandu are providing all the gear for the trip as well as donations of clothing and equipment for children in Nepal.
“I refuse to accept that our AE students are bad kids. The majority, if not all, of their challenges are not of their making. Regardless, they are children. They should not be written off as a statistic or put in the ‘too hard’ basket by schools or Government or the YMCA. It is incumbent on all of us to see this for what it is, a group of young people who could (and will) be great if they were only given the right opportunities. It is amazing what a person can do if they think others believe in them.”