Students from Mt. Cheam Christian School in Chilliwack with their exchange student counterparts at John Tallach Secondary in Ingwenya, Zimbabwe. The students left Canada just as travel advisories were beginning, and got home with the help of officials in both countries. (Submitted photo)

Mt. Cheam Christian students safely back from Zimbabwe

Students left for two-week exchange trip just as travel advisories were beginning

A small group of Chilliwack students are back at home and healthy after a trip to Zimbabwe, and they are thanking everyone who helped them return safely.

The group of eight students from Mt. Cheam Christian School, along with a chaperone, left on March 11 for their two-week trip. It was a time when just a few travel advisories had come down from governments around the world, but not Canada or Zimbabwe.

The trip was the first half of an exchange trip with students from John Tallach Secondary in Ingwenya, Zimbabwe. They had been planning, fundraising and anticipating the trip for a long time, and were eager to go.

But as Rita Klop, a teacher at the school explains, that changed very quickly once they were on the ground.

“Things on the pandemic front were changing hourly and after a few days it became obvious that they would not be able to make their return flights on March 26 as planned as more and more countries were closing their borders, and increasingly more and more connecting flights were cancelled as a consequence,” she says. “The final straw came when South Africa announced a total lockdown and grounded all of their air travel.”

READ MORE: Chilliwack’s Roblin Travel trying to weather COVID-19 crisis

Parents then quickly enlisted the help of many public officials to assist in making arrangements to bring these students home.

“Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to Chilliwack- Hope MP Mr. Strahl and his staff, Amanda Reid and Nomusa Makunura at the Canadian Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, the hardworking staff at Global Affairs in Ottawa, Samson Arega of Ethopian Airlines, and not the least to Lisa Koppert of First Step Travel for the concerted effort they all made to negotiate the quickly and ever changing situation,” Klop says. “At one point it almost seemed like the group might have to wait it out in Zimbabwe. Fortunately, the students arrived safely back at Vancouver International Airport only one day later than originally planned, in good health and high spirits!”

She adds that the group has now finished their 14-day quarantine and has started their school studies at home.

“The stories they tell indicate that they had an amazing cultural experience and learned much about life and school in Zimbabwe and formed great bonds with their exchange partners,” Klop says. “Unfortunately, the return visit of their exchange counterparts planned for April was cancelled and while they are still hopeful that they can still come during the summer, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Klop adds that they would also like to thank those who made the exchange possible in the first place, including parents, staff at both schools, and the many generous donors.

“A special thanks goes to Maria Kerkhoff, former teacher at MCCS and now teaching at JT Secondary (in Zimbabwe), for being the inspiration and driving force behind the program,” she says. “Thanks to all the parents who helped in so many ways from helping with fundraising, collecting documentation and the assistance in these unprecedented times to help bring the group home. Thanks to the many anonymous generous donors since without the funds the students would never have had the opportunity, especially the students from Zimbabwe (who hopefully can still travel to and experience Canada, the great place we call home.)

“We would like to publicly thank Kerkhoff Construction, Westeck Windows, Canex Building Supplies, Mr. Build, and Van Maren Construction for their generous monetary and ticket contributions.”

She said they are all grateful, and hopes everyone can “stay safe and stay healthy.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. ER nurse self-isolates in travel trailer, apart from family


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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