Four Youth Mentors from the CRUW Program Shared their Stories at the Sustaining Peace Conference at Columbia University in New York City

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 Bringing the Classroom to the Big Apple: Four Youth Mentors from the CRUW Program Shared their Stories at the Sustaining Peace Conference at Columbia University in New York City

CRUW Youth Mentors in NYC

CRUW Youth Mentors in NYC

At the end of last month, four lucky high school students found themselves out of the classroom for a few days, wandering the streets of New York City. After graduating as participants of the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness (CRUW) Program in 2012, these four youth were selected to return in a Youth Mentor capacity for the duration of the 2013 CRUW Program. Just a few days before they found themselves looking up at the Statue of Liberty, or cheering on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, these youth were at the University of British Columbia Longhouse, handing out graduation certificates to the 2013 participants.

Through their continued commitment to the CRUW Program, they were invited to present at the Sustaining Peace Conference at Columbia University in New York City on October 24th, 2013. Their presentation was titled “Land-Based Practices for Sustainable Wellness and Peace: Youth Centered Initiatives from Vancouver, BC”. The youth discussed how programs like CRUW:

  1. promote understanding and respect of environment contributing to sustainable urban development;
  2. break down discrimination and stereotypes, facilitating cross-cultural collaboration and peace; and
  3. empower youth to develop leadership skills and other capacities for their own individual, family and community wellness in holistic and sustainable ways.

In the moments leading up to the presentation, one could hear the butterflies in the presenters’ stomachs, as the youth looked out to an audience of professors and academics, who eagerly awaited a youth-led presentation at the prestigious event. The youth were quickly surprised to learn how interested the audience was to find out about the activities they have been doing at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Farm for the past two years: “At first I was nervous but then I felt really comfortable because everyone was so interested in what I was saying” –Youth Mentor. “Everyone was really nice and open-minded. They asked us lots of questions. I like how older people are so interested in our work”- Youth Mentor.

By the end of the presentation, emotions were high as the entire room was transformed into a traditional Closing Circle ceremony, mirroring the sacredness of connection that the youth practice at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Farm during the CRUW sessions. The audience, joined palm to palm, listened attentively as one of the mentors led the group through a typical closing, explaining our connection to the Earth. They were proud to explain the meaningfulness behind a traditional smudge.

This was not your typical conference room! For the staff that accompanied the youth during the trop, the highlight was standing in the traditional Closing Circle after the presentation, watching the Youth Mentors take the lead. “It’s been an incredible transformation from watching them on the first day of CRUW as participants to now: leading a circle at the conference!” -CRUW staff. The trip was a success to say the least; as CRUW continues to grow we hope to continue our collaboration with the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and offering this wonderful experience to our future CRUW Youth Mentors.

For more information about CRUW, please visit us at vacfss.com/programs/cruw

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