Torch - Fall 2016

The Institute at Havergal

Bringing a New Perspective into Focus: The Institute Excursions Audrey Xu’s Story

By Melanie Belore, Program Manager, The Institute at Havergal

G rade 12 student Audrey Xu exudes a quiet confidence. A talented photographer with an eye for composition and a knack for capturing the feeling of a place, she is typically more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. The decision to join the Havergal excursion to Tanzania last March Break pushed Xu out from her comfort zone and into a new understanding of herself and her connection with the world. “I was definitely a little bit apprehensive at first,” recalls Xu. “I debated about whether or not to go on the excursion for about two weeks. It wasn’t until after many conversations with Ms. Belore that I made a decision. She said to me: ‘It’s either being in Tanzania for three weeks with people you will grow to know, or being in an environment that you are already comfortable in,’ which struck a chord with me.” This push and pull between the familiar and the unknown is one that many students know well, whether it is breaking away from old friends to make space for new ones, leaving the comforts of home to experience a new rhythm of life or even just letting go of old mindsets in favour of new perspectives. For Xu, taking the leap into the unknown brought international issues into focus for her at the local level. During her 17 days in Mbeya, Tanzania, she participated in Camp Olive Branch International (COBI), the brainchild of Deborah McCracken- Nangereke—founder of the Olive Branch for Children foundation, a registered charity and not-for-profit organization that provides support to thousands of Tanzanians living in some of the country’s most remote regions. A Toronto native, McCracken-Nangereke lives and works in Tanzania with her family, overseeing a full spectrum of community-led programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention and care, food security, support for vulnerable children and women, microfinancing and Montessori primary education training. COBI is an extension of this programming, designed to bring Tanzanian and Canadian youth together in a way that is unconventional of most international trips marketed to young people. Each Canadian student on the excursion was partnered with a Tanzanian student of similar age. Xu was partnered with Erika, an outgoing teenager who shared Xu’s love of art and photography. They had dance parties before dinner, shared a

14  HAVERGAL COLLEGE Audrey Xu supports the Olive Branch for Children by selling her prints online. “ “ The Institute excursions shift language and perspective from How can I help? to How can I learn from you?

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