A group of Port Alberni army and sea cadets will be participating in a cultural exchange with a group from the Arctic Circle later this spring.
Sarah Williams, the organizer of the event, has led three exchanges previously through schools. The exchange is run through Experiences Canada, a nationally funded exchange program for school groups and community groups ages 12 to 17.
Williams, who used to live in the Arctic, connected with a teacher she knew previously, and arranged for the exchange.
A group of 24 sea and army cadets from Port Alberni will be travelling to the small town of Naujaat, Nunavut for 10 days in May. It is a reciprocal exchange, so 24 army cadets, as well as three chaperones, will be arriving in the Alberni Valley from Nunavut from March 11-18.
“For some of them, it will be their first time out of the territory,” said Williams. “We’ll take them out on a west coast tour for the week.”
So far, the group has planned a meeting with the mayor and a gathering with the Tseshaht First Nation. They are also considering a gathering with the Hupacasath First Nation and a tour of McLean Mill.
“A third of the exchange needs to be based on heritage, and making groups aware of heritage in the area,” said Williams.
“The group is 100 percent Inuit, except for two of the chaperones, so it’s a real big cultural exchange, as well.”
Williams is also considering a trip to Bamfield and Nanaimo with the visiting cadets.
“They don’t have pools where they are,” she said. “Naujaat has just over 1,000 people, it’s right on the Arctic Circle. There are no trees. It’s pretty remote. We want them to experience things they can’t do back home.”
The cadets will be doing a volunteer project for the Dry Creek community garden by prepping it for the summer. Williams said the cadets are also open to other volunteer programs that the community might suggest.
The visiting cadets will be staying with nine or 10 host families. “That’s part of the program, they host each other,” said Williams. “But with the overcrowding, they are in no way able to host our crew.”
The Port Alberni cadets will be staying at the brand new high school in Naujaat when they make their trip, instead.
“We’re going to be doing some ice-fishing, learning survival skills, visiting different parts of the community,” said Williams. “Learning about the Inuit way of life and the realities of living in the Arctic.”
All of the travel costs are covered by the federal government, through the Department of Canadian Heritage. However, the cadets are responsible for paying for all the activities that take place during the exchange.
The Port Alberni cadet corps will be holding a fundraising spaghetti dinner at the Port Alberni Youth Centre on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The doors open at 5:30 p.m., and dinner and an auction will follow from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids 10 and under, and can be purchased from cadet families or at the door.
Williams said the crews have already been preparing for the exchange by sending letters to each other and creating a Facebook page.
“Hopefully they’ll get to know each other a little bit first,” she said.