WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Andrea Wan shows a hand-carved item that was made for her as a gift during her five-week stay in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.
LEDUC — Among the volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society's distribution centre is Andrea Wan, a member of St. Michael's Parish in Leduc. For the past three years, she and her mother Linda have been helping load a sea can with necessities to send north to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.
But the selfless youth was inspired to help out even more. Impacted by the assistance that St. Vincent de Paul has been providing for Tuk, Wan wanted to do the same, but in her own way. She yearned to work with the children in the hamlet situated far north of the Arctic Circle. Wan, 15, raised $7,000 for her trip, which paid for her flight, travel expenses and some of the shipping costs of the sea can.
Arriving in Tuk on July 15, she was only scheduled to spend four weeks. But her adventure was so rewarding she asked her mother if she could stay longer. Mom agreed, and Wan returned home to Leduc Aug. 18.
From the young people of Tuk, she received an immediate warm reception.
"I wasn't sure what they'd think of me. Once they met me at the airport, they all hugged me right away and told me that they wanted to take me to their favourite places and go swimming and biking. They are really good kids," said Wan.
Children shared their problems and told heart-wrenching stories about their lives with Wan. In return, she offered them encouragement and guidance.
She helped build a park for some of the kids in town. She was someone the kids could talk to about their relationship with God, someone they could trust and someone who had healthy relationships.
"There are some kids where their dads threaten their moms with guns, and kids who are smoking and getting involved with bad things," she said.
"I just gave them some advice towards what I thought were better choices for them, teaching them the right paths to take, like stay in school and don't smoke."
One youth was smoking cigarettes, and Wan told him they could not do activities together if he continued smoking. So, at least for the duration of her five-week stay, he quit smoking.
"I stayed at Sister Fay Trombley's house, and her place is a lot of fun because there are always people going in and out. Kids are always around and they're smiling and happy. Some elders are usually in the house, and they give you advice or tell stories. Everyone is really hospitable," said Wan.
Daily life is much different in Tuk than in Leduc. Hunting whales and fishing provide food for families. There are only 54 jobs for more than 1,000 people. Among the few employers are the transport companies, taxi service, grocery store and airport.
But adjusting to the different lifestyle was less demanding than Wan expected. The isolation was negated by the kindness of the people and the busyness. The 24 hours of sunlight, while disrupting her natural sleep patterns, made it easy to stay up late.
Wan has always considered helping the less fortunate in other parts of the world. The joy that resulted from her first mission trip confirmed this idea and instilled in her a newfound confidence.
Since talking about the experience with her friends and family, all of them said they want to help her, either financially or with prayers. A few even said they would like to travel there with her when she returns next summer.
Going back to Tuk next summer is a certainty, but Wan is also contemplating other mission trip options.
"Barbados is one that I might be going to in February. I'd be going to different schools and working with kids again, which is what I love to do," said Wan, a Grade 10 student who wants to be a teacher.
The whole Tuk experience has greatly shaped her faith life, and made her be more indebted to God for what she has in life.
"It made my faith life grow bigger, definitely. People here in Alberta and everyone who has so much - we take things for granted, and we don't always thank God for what we're given.
"But once you're in Tuktoyaktuk, or anywhere really that has poverty, you realize that you have to thank God for what you're given because in places like that, you're not given a lot," said Wan.
She gave the kids toys, books, clothes, craft supplies and other donated items, and the children were grateful. One event almost made her cry. She gave a package of markers to a little girl, and the girl asked if they were new. The girl had never owned new markers before.