As some people might know in a few weeks’ time my Mom -Cindy and I (Natasha) will be taking off overseas for another Camino adventure. The Camino de Santiago- also known as the “The Way” is described as a journey for the soul. It is a trail that Pilgrims have walked across Europe for centuries following earlier Roman trade routes to lead them to Santiago de Compostela where tradition has it that the remains an apostle are buried. There are many routes of the Camino and peoples reasons for taking the way vary from a spiritual path, physical goal or simply walking in search of their “ why”. It is more than just a hike; the Camino is an unforgettable experience and unique Journey. You meet people from all paths of life, sharing their “why” they’re walking the “Way”.
This will be my third Camino experience and Cindy’s fourth, and this time we will be walking the Camino Francigena – traveling from Lausanne, Switzerland to Rome. As exciting as it is to be walking the Way again there also comes months of dedication and time to get our minds and bodies ready to be walking long days carrying heavy backpacks. It takes self-determination to prepare and do a Camino. There are many different types of Camino’s in one’s life- They usually engage you either physically and/or mentally and/or soul searching. Walking a Camino involves all three; you have to train physically and mentally for the long trip ahead. It also requires a great deal of soul searching as you have time to think and reassess things as you walk grounded to the earth beneath you.
As magical as it all sounds there are tough days, as both myself and Mother can attest to the long days, the heat, the hills, blisters, injures and everything in-between can often leave you feeling defeated at times. Self-determination to finish the way despite all these setbacks is what makes the Camino a powerful and enlightening journey. My Mom and I both agree that it has brought us an amazing sense of self-discovery, growth and reflection.
So this brings me to my “Why” and why we are inviting you to take a moment and share this journey with us and what the Way has taught us. Some of you may know I work as a Youth Worker in beautiful North Vancouver. My passion for Youth Work was not something I planned or even an avenue I thought of growing up – it was something I discovered when I made a move to the Yukon in 2011. I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa, Ontario so of course making this move up North far away from home was nerve racking and I literally had no idea what to expect from Northern Canada. As I reflect my education of Northern communities was close to none. Once I began my new life in Whitehorse and I quickly learned that there is a lack of knowledge that people in cities down south don’t know about our northern territories and communities. That in this beautiful country of wealth and opportunities we also have people who are living well below the poverty line – living with systemic abuse that that can lead to substance abuse, mental health issues – not to mention lack of human basics such as housing, jobs, education and opportunities that most children and youth born in Canada have rights too. My eyes were truly opened up and the misconceptions and ignorance I had were drastically changed when I began working with Youth in the North. Building relationships with these youth and learning about their lives was sometimes heartbreaking but despite their circumstances they were kind, talented, generous and inspiring, I often felt that there was a battle I was fighting to make others understand and listen that these youth needed more support, resources and opportunities. In this experience what I found most difficult was this was happening in Canada, a country with open arms known for helping those in need, and I was shameful that I had no idea that this was happening and that it is an issue that not many are aware of.
So this leads me to me what I want to do with this “Why” of mine. I am ever so lucky to have the privilege to be able to make this journey and meet people from all over the world on the” Way”. So I feel like it is my duty to share and raise awareness and proceeds for a cause that I truly believe in and hope that you will too.
The Ballantyne Project – a Project of True North Aid – A national registered charity serving and supporting northern communities in Canada
The Ballantyne Project is a project of True North Aid, a national Canadian charity, through the Self-Determination Fund -aimed at empowering indigenous youth in remote reserves in Canada.
The project itself is the movement that begins with the personal story of Dwight Ballantyne who was born and raised in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, a remote northern Saskatchewan First Nation where he faced the barriers of involuntary unemployment and isolation. In 2016 at the age of 21, he moved to BC to pursue education, employment and hockey. His success since then has surpassed any expectations he may have had.
After completing a one-year College Preparation Program he developed and directed a Hockey Skills & Leadership Program for Indigenous young men living on remote First Nations which led him to receive the BC Premiere’s Award for Youth Excellence in Sport in November 2018. In March 2019 he represented Team Canada in an International hockey tournament in Europe.
Dwight understands the challenges that come from living on a remote First Nation and he knows the focus and determination necessary to create change. He has made the decision to use his experience to bring hope and inspire others who would like to follow in his footsteps as well as bring awareness to Canadians about life in these remote communities.
The Ballantyne Project Team has started the WE SEE YOU campaign – A phrase that can open some doors to Canadian’s and people around the world about what life is like on remote reserves and the people who live there. As well as starting this campaign of awareness they also have developed the Ballantyne Entrepreneurship Program, a program that allows the team to travel up to these remote reserves and inspire and provide youth opportunities to strive and achieve endless possibilities that may never been available to them.
Please read the attached brochure with more in depth information about the Entrepreneurship Program.
So in closing my Mom and I are hoping to spread the word along the Camino Way with the WE SEE YOU campaign to help bring awareness to this cause that is so important to me, and believe that is an issue that Canadians need to be more informed about. Thank you for taking time to read about our journey and what our “why” has become as we set along our “Way”.
With your support we can help the Ballantyne team bring inspiration and opportunities to First Nations youth in Canada. Your donation will allow them to travel to remote communities and leave an impact on these individuals and their families now and into the future.
Follow us along our Camino Way journey as we spread the word @walkthisway.camino on Instagram