Carley Greening might be young, but she already has a strong understanding about the need to help under-privileged people in other countries.
The 16-year-old Lampman teen spent part of her summer vacation in the South American nation of Ecuador, where she worked on the construction of a school. She was one of 16 young people between the ages of 15 and 19 who were on the trip. Two facilitators joined them.
The humanitarian trip was through an organization named Me to We.
“I've always liked the idea of trips like that, but I never really thought I'd go on one,” said Greening. “A few of my friends went to the Dominican Republic in December, and I thought that was huge, and I thought 'I'd really like something like that.'”
She attended We Day in Saskatoon in February, and that only furthered her desire to travel to another country. Then the opportunity to go to Ecuador came up. A few months later, she was helping children in that country.
“I thought 'How cool would it be to spend 16 days in the Amazon building a school?'” said Greening.
Greening was in Ecuador in late July and early August. The first two days were spent in the largest city, Quito, which gave team members time to adjust to the country's higher elevations.
From there, they travelled seven hours by bus to Tena, and then they travelled another two hours to Mondana, which is the village where the school is located.
Team members stayed at an eco-lodge in the middle of the Amazon, and walked to the build site every day.
Most days they would work on the school in the morning. In the afternoon, they would learn more about Ecuador and its people by meeting with farmers, going to artisan markets or playing soccer with the children.
When at the build site, they did a lot work on the school's base. They built cement pillars and they filled in the dirt around the pillars.
“We actually got past the point where they wanted us, where they thought our end point would be,” said Greening. “We weren't supposed to get the flooring in, the next group was supposed to do that, but we got half the flooring in.”
And they did everything despite the lack of electric tools and other amenities found on North American job sites.
The Ecuadorian people were so kind, she said, and they all warmly greeted the team.
“That was the big thing that Me to We tried to do, was to get a relationship with the community, and make sure they actually wanted the school before we gave it to them,” said Greening.
People from the community work as contractors on the school, she said. Other residents offered to volunteer.
“On the last day, we played soccer with the kids most of the day, and then all the elders and their moms, and the people we met from the artisan market – like the ladies and the farmers – were all there thanking us for all we've done, and that was huge for me,” she said.
Greening said that when she first agreed to go to Ecuador, she never imagined the impact that building a school would have on the community's development. She saw the students crammed into their current school in Mondana.
It can only accommodate 150 pupils, and so other children can't go to school because there isn't enough room.
“We built this school that can fit 200 people, and they'll have the other school open, so it's huge,” said Greening.
Some girls in the village have had a baby at the age of 16. They'll go back to school when they're 23 years old, Greening said, because they want to get an education.
Her efforts in Ecuador have punched her ticket for a 21-day humanitarian trip to Kenya next summer through Me to We. Greening said that once somebody goes on a Me to We humanitarian journey, they become eligible to go elsewhere on alumni excursions.
Craig Kielburger, the activist who founded Me to We and Free the Children, is expected to join them in Kenya.
Greening doesn't yet know the details of what the team will be doing in Kenya, but she is looking forward to travelling to Africa through Me to We, and again helping people in another country.