Mexico trip an eye-opening experience for West Kings student

John Decoste
Published on June 19, 2014

Laura Richardson of Kingston, left, with two other Nova Scotian students at a cancer centre during their student exchange to Campeche, Mexico this past March, and a local child suffering from leukemia and being treated at the centre.  - Submitted

A Kings County girl now has a different perspective on what we have here in Canada after spending a two-week student exchange in Mexico earlier this year.

Laura Richardson, 16, of Kingston, was one of 21 Grade 11 students from across Nova Scotia awarded a scholarship in December from the International Student Exchange Program to attend a two-week leadership course in Mexico.

The program covered all their expenses and participants were billeted with host families in Campeche, a community on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico.

In return, the students were asked to independently fundraise for a cancer centre for underprivileged children, an orphanage and a multi-use sports facility, all located in and around Campeche.

Richardson, who attends West Kings, was the only student chosen from Kings County. There was one other student in the group from Windsor.

“There was an announcement at school. I applied and was chosen,” she said.

The students did their fundraising prior to leaving on the trip in March.

“We had a series of fundraisers. There was no real goal, but we were expected to fundraise at least $300.” Richardson ended up raising double that amount.

The students were told some of the activities they would be doing, but otherwise, they really didn’t know what to expect. One of the biggest challenges was the language barrier.

“My host family didn’t speak any English, and my ‘host sister’ only spoke a little. I don’t speak Spanish, so it was a bit of a challenge,” she said.

In the end, being resourceful, “we found we could communicate,” mostly through the use of hand gestures.

During their time in Campeche, other than taking leadership training and Spanish lessons, the students spent the bulk of their time working at the different charities they had fundraised for.

“We helped out at the AMANC Cancer Centre. We met one girl named Victoria, who was being treated there. The next day, we visited the orphanage and found out that was where she lived. She not only had cancer, she was an orphan, too,” Richardson said.

Despite all the challenges she had to face, Victoria, she said, “was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

Two weeks ago, “our Mexican families, who we still keep in touch with on Facebook, told us she had passed away.”

The whole trip was “a real eye-opener,” she said.

“It gave us all a better perspective of how much we have here in Canada, and how fortunate we are to live here.”

Laura says she learned a lot from her trip; most of all, the value of fundraising, and that a little bit can go a long way in the right situation.

“Now we know the money we donate can help a lot more kids get out of the situation they’re in,” she said.