Olana_Thomson_Educator

Foundations for the Future Charter Academy North Middle School 211 McKnight BLVD NE Calgary, AB T2E 5S7 Phone: 253-9257 Fax: 253-1273

Oct 31, 2018

WE

339 Queen Street East

Toronto, ON

M5A 1S9

Dear WE Schools,

How does one accurately describe a life-changing event? How can the true impact of an experience, a place, be captured?

I am a Grade 8 Language Arts/Social Studies teacher in Calgary, Alberta. I have been in the classroom for over 10 years now, but nothing has impacted my personal and professional life like this summer. In July of this year, I travelled to Ecuador with Me to WE, on the Ecuador Educators’ trip. To say it was a life-changing experience is a vast understatement. Many of my colleagues here have remarked to me that I seem different; I feel the shift, the change in polarity. At a very surface level, my Ecuador experience has resulted in a reinvigoration of my teaching in Social Studies. I am determined to introduce a more global, issues-based approach to my students. Currently, my Grade 8 classes are doing projects on the refugee crisis in Central and South America. Later in the year, when we study the Spanish-Aztec conquest, we will also be looking at the 2008 Ecuador Constitution, and how the Rights of Nature reflect an indigenous American worldview that the Aztecs shared. I am also continuing to work with our campus Me to WE Club, and I have already shared my experience in the permaculture cacao farms with the students. We will be creating a large and far-reaching chocolate sale campaign in the spring of 2019. This will also involve me presenting to our wider school audience about the challenges and issues cacao farmers face in the Amazon region. As one of our jungle guides at Minga Lodge said, our first step to true, lasting change is to address our daily choices; step two is to find connections with communities. I have this written down and underlined in my journal – this is my new professional teaching philosophy.

Parent • Teacher • Student

Also in my Minga journal, I found this entry, written less than a month after returning to Calgary. I am struck by how a small thing could turn into a new perspective, and how such a profound experience could colour my work as a teacher and as a citizen of our world: “One of the things that returns to me is the heavy rain we experienced on the first night at Minga Lodge. I had never, ever experienced rain like that. As I lay in bed listening to it strike our roof, I was actually feeling fear, tinged with a sense of awe. The absolute power of nature was on display. The roaring of the water was like a freight train. That night was our welcome to the Amazon and the whole entirety of experience. As Sondra, one of our jungle guides, told us – our disconnect with nature is a symptom of a mindset. We are always taught we are superior. One tree is sacred, water and forest are sacred. They are not at the top of the pyramid, we are not at the top. We are all on the same level. That night at Minga, I heard and felt the rushing of the water, and I felt not apart, but at peace. What a gift, at 46 years old, to learn such a fundamental truth.” The We Villages trips are meant to bring hope, and they are to spur us to action. I can say with certainty that the profound nature of our experience has brought me to a new level in my personal and professional life. I feel that all things are possible, and that I and my students can be instruments of change. One day, one step, one campaign at a time. Thank you so much for the opportunity to travel to Ecuador, and to see first-hand the work that is being done there, by WE Villages and WE Charity. I sincerely hope that you continue to provide opportunities like these to other educators in the future. The impact of my own Ecuador experience is just beginning to take shape – it is truly, truly profound.

Yours truly,

Olana Thomson

Grade 8 Teacher

Foundations for the Future Charter Academy

North Middle School

Parent • Teacher • Student

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