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Banding together for the community

Many after school programs include cultural learning as part of their daily activities. But at Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwdoon (SAO) in Thunder Bay, Ontario, First Nations' teachings are the heart of everything.

“Twenty to thirty kids come to our program every day after school,” says Touchan Fiddler, Youth Outreach Worker at SAO. "About 75 per cent of those kids are aboriginal, so it's important to help them learn about their heritage and culture."

The after school program, called Biwaase'aa, is based on First Nations' teachings, including activities like storytelling, clan teachings, pipe teachings, natural medicine and various ceremonies. One of the most popular activities is drumming, which Touchan leads. Aboriginal professionals from the community are frequently welcomed to the program to talk to the kids about different career paths.

“We try to create an enriching environment for the children to come to after school,” said Touchan. “Whether we're hosting a workshop on how to stay safe, planning a field trip or developing ideas for cooking classes, we're always thinking of how we can help the children grow into successful adults.”

The average day at the program is broken into three parts. When the children arrive, they eat a healthy snack and then participate in a sharing circle. They finish off with sports or skill development.

Listening is a key theme at SAO. At the beginning of each year, Touchan asks what the children's expectations of the program are. He then tailors the program to meet their expectations.

“The sharing circles give us the opportunity to do more cultural teachings with the kids,” said Touchan. “Sometimes we'll just talk about how the kids are feeling, how their day was. You can't underestimate the value of letting kids talk about what might be concerning them.”

Shkoday Abinojiiwak Obimiwdoon received a first-time donation of $40,000 this year through the RBC After School Project.

The RBC After School Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based organizations that provide programs for children and youth aged 6-17 with structured, supervised activities that enhance safety, social skills and self-esteem. Since 1999, RBC has provided more than $27 million in grants to 248 community-based after school programs in Canada, helping almost 29,000 children.