By Sarah Pinnington, PPO Volunteer
At 6:30 a.m. outside of Venus Envy on a chilly Friday morning, three volunteers (Amanda, Robert, and Sarah) clambered into the PPO van driven by Leanne, PPO’s co-op student. When we arrived at the town of Maniwaki, we were met by Sheila, Kitigan Zibi’s community health nurse, who led us on to the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Reserve and to the high school. For three of the PPO people, this was their first time on a First Nations reserve.
The community health fair was split up by gender; in the morning the girls had a presentation by a motivational speaker, while the boys split up into groups and rotated between the four presentation rooms. In addition to two “PPO” rooms, in which two PPOers each gave presentations on STIs and contraception, there were presentations about healthy relationships and drugs awareness. In the afternoon, the boys had their presentation from the motivational speaker while the girls rotated through the presentations. The turnout was phenomenal, if at times a little uneven – one group of girls consisted of three students! Despite the subject matter, which can at times prompt giggling and shyness among high school students, the students were extremely animated and engaged, asking questions and telling anecdotes.
The coordinators we met were the first three students to graduate from the reserve’s high school. All three still live on the reserve and were able to tell the visitors about the changes that have taken place in the intervening years. After the lunch break and between the two rounds of presentations all the students and staff gathered in the school’s atrium for a heartwarming (and surprising) thank you to all of the presenters at the health fair. Each one of us received a bottle of Awazibi maple syrup (a community initiative) and a drum or rattle handmade by one of the band members.
It would be naïve to suggest that this was a presentation experience like any other, and some of the questions and comments from students illustrate the fact that Aboriginal youth face unique health and social concerns. At the end of the day, we chatted with the coordinators and we discussed the possibility of PPO coming back for further presentations and workshops.
During the ride home, we talked about how much we would like to set up a “train the facilitator” program so that Algonquin youth on the reserve have the opportunity to discuss issues of sexual health with their peers. Whether or not this comes to fruition, the experience was a rewarding one for the four PPO volunteers. I sincerely hope that the same can be said for the students we interacted with. I would go back to Kitigan Zibi with PPO in a heartbeat.