TORONTO—Sheguiandah First Nation’s Aaron Bowerman has just returned from a life changing trip to Nicaragua as part of Indigenous Youth Empowering Students (IYES) and SchoolBOX—a grassroots Canadian and Nicaraguan charity that sees the role that ‘giving back’ to impoverished communities in Nicaragua can play in the empowerment of Indigenous youth to become leaders in their own communities at home.
Mr. Bowerman, who currently lives in Toronto where he works for the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy as an outreach and support worker, told The Expositor that he first became aware of the program online as they were seeking Indigenous youth to take part in the program. Mr. Bowerman jumped at the chance to learn more about a different Indigenous culture in a different country, while exploring his own roots.
He was there for two weeks earlier this month, helping to build classrooms in small communities that either didn’t have a classroom or had ones that were in need of repair. “That, and interacting with the community,” Mr. Bowerman said of his time in Nicaragua.
“It was amazing, interacting with the kids. We couldn’t speak each other’s languages, but we managed to communicate anyway—I played a lot of soccer,” he laughed. “It was so great to see these little kids helping us build, working right alongside us.”
Mr. Bowerman learned that there are many different tribes in Nicaragua. There are 12 different regions with different tribes in each and every one, including their own customs, language and regalia.
“I saw a lot of dancing and heard a lot of poetry,” he added, noting that the people of Nicaragua were keen to share their love of poetry with their Canadian visitors.
“It was eye opening, exhausting, but a lot of fun,” Mr. Bowerman said. “It’s my hope that more Indigenous youth will take part in IYES. It’s such an amazing experience.”
He spoke of the extreme heat of a South American country in August and of the culture shock, but once you push past it, it’s well worth it.
Mr. Bowerman said he shared with the children the importance of getting a good education, especially for girls. Before, he said, schooling was only for the wealthy.
Mr. Bowerman is back in Toronto at his full-time job and said he is thinking about going back to school, likely at the First Nations Technical Institute, which has flexible programs that allow students to work and study at the same time.
“I really enjoy learning,” he said. “And I really like the work I’m doing, harm reduction.” Through this job he said he has learned a lot about the importance of self-care, which is also why taking some time to go on the IYES trip was important to him.
For more information about IYES visit schoolbox.ca/iyes.