120 youth from 13 countries learn lessons on life with Students On Ice

From the Arctic south, there is a trickle-down effect. It’s a connection that Shadelle Molloy and Sammy Meyers now know.

Through a partnership with Power To Be and Students On Ice, Wilderness School alumni Shadelle and Sammy joined the 2016 Arctic Expedition with Power To Be staff member Sarah Glenn. The once-in-a-lifetime experience saw them travel from Vancouver Island to Greenland on an educational trip that artfully blended science and culture to inspire youth to take action.

Flying from Victoria to Ottawa and onward to Iqaluit, Shadelle recalls the anticipation growing as the group of 120 youth from 13 countries zipped through the darkness on small boats to the ship that would be their floating home for the next three weeks.

When they woke up, the world had transformed.

Photo (c) Martin Lipman / Students on Ice

“To see a place so beautiful, and to think it’s not going to be the same in 50 years, it really worries me,” Shadelle says. “It’s scary to think about but seeing it first-hand makes you want to do something about it.”

The expedition sailed from the northern tip of Labrador, stopping to explore Torngat Mountains National Park. On board, opportunities to learn abounded with workshops, speakers and hands-on activities. Lessons instilled through conversation where solidified with the views off the outside decks. The first day at sea, they saw 10 polar bears.

“They were so much bigger than I thought,” Sammy recalls. “It was amazing to see an animal that I have seen on TV so many times, it was like a dream.”

“We saw two cubs and their mom, and I burst into tears,” Shadelle adds. “I couldn’t believe I was seeing that with my own eyes. It’s something you see in magazines.”

Photo (c) Lee Narraway / Students on Ice

They sailed north to Baffin Island and across the Davis Strait to Greenland. On Day 11, they travelled to Evighedsfjord, Greenland and the reality of global warming in the Arctic became real for those from the South.

The calibre of the team with them – a group of 80 scientists, journalists, artists, Inuit Elders, dignitaries and explorers – helped illuminate the changes happening in the North, says Sarah, the Power To Be staff member who accompanied the participants. The simple act of pointing out how much a glacier has receded in just two years translated into the stark reality of fewer marine animals visiting the area, she says. That in turn translated into less food for the Inuit people who depend on it, creating a domino effect on day-to-day life.

“Before this trip, I knew about climate change. But to see it with my own eyes… puts it into perspective,” Shadelle says.

Photo (c) Lee Narraway / Students on Ice

The dramatic landscapes were softened by the people who call the North home. With youth ambassadors and Elders from the North onboard sharing in the experience, it was hard not to be inspired by the people and culture, Shadelle says.

Those moments came with harsher lessons as well. The group travelled to Hebron, where in 1959 a forced relocation of the Inuit residents by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador redefined the lives of families for generations. In the company of many Inuit leaders and Elders, the group shared a ceremony in recognition of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, officially launched that day by the National Inuit Organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. It was here that the group learned that suicide rates among young Inuit in the North are 10 times higher than the Canadian national average.

“I knew about some of these issues, but I had no connection to them,” Shadelle says. “Meeting people, seeing their passion and how much their culture means to them… and then seeing how that was taken away from them and how they are still affected. It hit me.”

“It was such an eye opener,” adds Sammy. “I felt so connected with the land and the people. It was super emotional. You could feel the times of happiness and sadness. You could feel the love that the people of my generation have for Hebron.”

Sharing that experience with her peers and the Elders present was a powerful experience, Shadelle adds. “I learned that forgiveness isn’t for the other person. It’s for you.”

Photo (c) Lee Narraway / Students on Ice

Sixteen days after the adventure began, they headed home. Somewhere above the clouds, as the plane brought them back to Vancouver Island, the weight of what they had experienced sunk in. The inspiration and desire to take action was contrasted by the uncertainty of not knowing where to start. What is clear is the responsibility to share what they learned and encourage others to connect to the world around them.

“Knowledge is power. That is what people can walk away from this experience with. Between two weeks and 200 people, so much knowledge was being transferred,” Sarah says. “It’s a good reminder to think about the little things we do in our day-to-day lives. The changes we can make in our community really do have an effect on what is going in in the greater picture.”

Photo (c) Lee Narraway / Students on Ice

That’s a sentiment Sammy echoes. The trip shifted her perspective on how people interact with the environment. “This trip really made me see what we are doing to the planet and how we shouldn’t feel like that’s OK. The planet isn’t ours to do that to – we don’t own it. We need to change our way of life.”

It starts with connecting the chain of cause and effect to the people who live between those realities. To make it real and to make it matter.

“You have to have a personal connection,” Shadelle says. “That’s what it will take.”

Photo (c) Power To Be

On behalf of Power To Be, thank you to everyone who makes the work of Students On Ice possible. We were honoured to be a part of this year’s expedition and the recipients of scholarships to participate thanks to a partnership between two organizations who work tirelessly to make nature accessible to people who may not otherwise have access to such experiences.