Opaskwayak Cree Nation volunteer returns from cross-cultural internship in Peru with new perspective

A voluntary work program that sends Indigenous youth from Canada to Peru is a good opportunity for cross-cultural learning, says one participant.

“At first I was so scared, but it was really great,” said Mary Sayese.

Sayese is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, Man.

She is one of 34 youth who participated in the Canada World Youth International Aboriginal Youth Internship Program this year.

The leadership development program sends Indigenous youth from all over Canada to live and work with Indigenous peoples in Peru for four months. The program started in August and wrapped up in December.

Sayese said the group of youth first met up in Ottawa in August for a “pre-departure” camp, where people were taught what to expect in Peru.

They left for Peru in September and lived with host families during their stay.

“They were so welcoming and so loving and my mom was honestly the best; she did anything and everything to make me feel so welcome,” said Sayese. 

Work experience

According to the website for Canada World Youth, one of the goals is to build the capacity of the participants to address international development issues.

Sayese said they helped build ecological kitchens and helped to plant community gardens.

Program participants helped to make eco-kitchens out of mud. (Submitted)

“Every day was different,” said Sayese. “We were pick-axing, watering and planting and it was really good.” 

After work was done for the day, they would take Spanish lessons in the evening and played volleyball with local community members.

While the internship participants were being taught the local Peruvian customs, they were also teaching the locals some of the customs of their cultures.

“I was telling them about the powwows that we have here, and I was showing my host mom the videos and she was so amazed,” said Sayese.

She also made bannock and bannock dogs for her host family.

“Every time I’d make it, they would just get so happy,” said Sayese.

New perspective

Another goal of the program was to highlight the similar experiences that exist between Indigenous people in Peru and in Canada.

“They’re like us, they’re family oriented and they also have their own Indigenous language called the Quechuan,” said Sayese.

Mary Sayese is pictured here with a group of students she helped teach English to. (Submitted)

“They all knew one another and [if] someone needed help, they were there right away.”

Sayese said she came back from Peru with a new perspective.

“I came back to Canada just so grateful for what I have,” said Sayese.

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