CANADA WORLD YOUTHFuture politician reports on African experience
What do you do if you want to become fully fluent in French? If you’re Kai Nestman, you find a way to fully immerse yourself in the language and help humanity at the same time.
Nestman, a young Sunshine Coast man, recently returned from the African country of Bénin where he was part of an exchange sponsored by Canada World Youth (CWY).
On March 4, he updated the Rotary Club of the Sunshine Coast on his adventures with CWY. Along with many other groups on the Sunshine Coast, the Rotary Club had contributed to Nestman’s participation in the youth program.
CWY is based on a six month program. For the first three months, the Canadian youth and their counterparts from various foreign countries spend their time in Canada. The following three months are spent in their partners’ homelands. The emphasis of the program is volunteer work and community building.
Prior to going to the impoverished African country on the Atlantic Coast, Nestman spent three months in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec. The city of roughly 40,000 is situated on an island in the Saint Lawrence River.
While in Quebec, Nestman and Timothée, his Béninois counterpart, spent time with the rest of their group working on environmental projects, the primary one being a community idle-free plan, where signage and education were aimed at average citizens to convince them to cut down on idling their vehicles. Provincial and federal funding helped the CWY group achieve their objectives.
While in Quebec, Nestman and Timothée stayed with a family of five — three children and two adults. All day-today living was conducted in French, an excellent learning opportunity for Nestman, who hopes to be a federal politician one day. He was also fortunate to be able to go to Ottawa with the CWY group. And while he has taken two years of political science at the Ottawa University, so this wasn’t a first visit for Nestman, he was proud to show off our Parliament to his African mates.
Bénin was an eye opener for the Canadian youth. The county of about nine million people is ranked 187th in the world in terms of quality of life. The average life expectancy is 59, and only 48 per cent of men over the age of 15 can read and write. The statistic for women is even more dismal — only 23 per cent are literate.
The official language is French. Religions practiced include Islam, Christianity, Voodoo and various tribal beliefs. Growing pineapples is a prime industry in the poor country. The average wage is $2 per day and in the pineapple juice-manufacturing sector, it’s nothing for women to work a mind-numbing 12 hours a day, six days a week putting labels on bottles. As a community job, this didn’t sit well with the Canadian contingent of the CWY.
Culture differences in Canada and Bénin were most pronounced in regard to women, according to Nestman.
He told of the treatment of the grandmother of his host family in Bénin. The woman, a counsellor of some repute, was regularly approached by men in the town for answers to their problems. Yet, Nestman said the men would not look the woman in the eyes.
“It was as if they were ashamed to talk to a woman for advice,” he explained.
While in Bénin, Nestman saw several instances of Rotary help.
One project was a large ferryboat that took children to school every day. One hope there is for the Béninois is to change their pineapple farming from the present chemical-dependent style to organic, a concept that would require a complete 18-month growing season with no product to market — a tough sell in a desperately poor country.
Over the past six years, Nestman has travelled extensively on both humanitarian and personal development. A Rotary exchange student with the Sechelt Rotary Club in 2004, Nestman spent almost a year in Thailand, a country he said bore similarities to Bénin in the farming style. He has also spent a year in France as an au pair learning French.
Right now he’s looking to become a project leader in the Katimavik program. Similar to CWY in scope but national rather than international, Katimavik concentrates on dispersing Canadian youth to areas in Canada to help with social programs. And currently he plans to return to university in the fall.
Should his future plans in government materialize, it’s safe to say Nestman’s constituents will be in well-rounded hands.