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Laval students send ‘friendship boxes’ to First Nations children in remote communities

Laval students reach out to First Nations kids in remote communities
WATCH: Education and reconciliation are themes that have been floating around an elementary school in Laval. Students at John F. Kennedy are doing their part to reach out to a marginalized community and help those in need. Global’s Phil Carpenter has the story.

Corey Holland has a message for the child he’s hoping to help. The letter he’s written is packed inside a shoebox that is supposed to be delivered sometime in January.

“Be proud of who you are,” it reads.

There are other letters, too, each written by one of his Grade 6 classmates at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Laval, north of Montreal. There are 115 boxes, each with a letter, packed with treats for kids of all ages.

READ MORE: Over 80% of reserves have median income below poverty line, census data shows

These “friendship boxes” were created as part of the Me to We initiative to help people in need. According to teacher Leslie Sklavounos, students wanted to focus on communities struggling because of poverty.

“That’s when two of our Indigenous students said that they really wanted to focus on their community,” she told Global News as students packed the final boxes to be sent off.

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Holland, who is Cree from Chisasibi, is one of the Indigenous students. Sklavounos said both she and Holland told the other students about the poverty in some remote First Nations communities.

“They either have no electricity or no clean drinking water,” Holland explained.

Sklavounos reached out to Josée Lusignan of I Love First Peoples, a group that helps Indigenous youth. Using photos and video, Lusignan said she showed the John F. Kennedy students what conditions are like in some of the communities.

“When the children see a bathtub filled with brown water, when they see homes where you can see the wind go through because there’s gaping holes, they couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Creating a new holiday tradition for the homeless
Creating a new holiday tradition for the homeless

Sklavounos said that’s when the school community set to work collecting items for the friendship boxes.

“Oh my god, within the first week we must have received a good 500 items,” she said.

In two weeks, Sklavounos said her class collected more than 1,000 items from family and friends, including toiletries, books and even toys.

Students like Jayden Bercy say they’ve learned a lot.

“I’m really privileged and I shouldn’t take what I have for granted,” he said.

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The support surprises Sklavounos, who points out that some students at her school are also in need.

“Some families are struggling, some teachers are struggling,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life that we have here.”

READ MORE: Nakuset talks Montreal’s Indigenous community, changes she wants to see in the next decade

Lusignan admitted that the boxes won’t fix poverty in remote First Nations communities, but she noted that sending them is an act of reconciliation “because it is one way of getting to understand what the reality is here in this country,” she said. “These kids can now teach their parents.”

She added that the letters make all the difference for the kids getting them. Holland is hoping his letter will inspire someone.

“We are Indigenous, proud and amazing,” he wrote in his letter. “Use your way of life to survive.”