Bob Blacker of Write to Read and B.C. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon were in Ahousaht Nov. 6 for the official opening of a new high school library. Write to Read is also working with the community to develop and adult learning centre. (Eric Plummer photo)
After helping to open a library in Ahousaht’s high school this fall, a charitable foundation is drafting plans with the First Nation to develop an adult education centre.
Write to Read has held two design sessions with Ahousaht’s elected council to formulate plans for a learning facility in the community, and another meeting is planned for January. With support from Rotary clubs in British Columbia, the charitable organization backs initiatives to empower indigenous communities, focusing on projects that promote literacy. Last summer Write to Read helped establish a library in Ahousaht’s Maaqtusiis Secondary School, and has worked on projects with other First Nations, including plans for a new community centre and museum in Kyuquot.
Bob Blacker of Write to Read said the adult learning centre meetings entailed collecting ideas from Ahousaht community members, with an architect on hand to draw a structure that could best serve the First Nation’s needs.
“It’s realizing a dream the community has had,” he said.
Ahousaht Chief Councillor Greg Louie took part in the design meetings with Write to Read to determine what the adult learning centre needs to be.
“What I think we need is more of a balance of academic and vocational,” he said. “We have a lot of locals who are really hands on. They can fix a fridge, a TV, they can fix their own trucks and their own motors, but I think they could get more theory and practical training with those trades.”
Part of the purpose of the future facility is to open career opportunities for adults in Ahousaht.
“I know a lot of guys, especially men, who want to be cooks,” said Louie. “The chef trades are very limited here. They could get the training here, go somewhere else and contribute over there - then maybe when they get the experience, come back. They could open really nice restaurant here.”
“It could be a start for someone to get training,” added Louie. “If they get back and stay in the community, great - and great if they go somewhere else.”
The organization is looking for ways to build a facility worth nearly $1 million for a fraction of the cost.
“We’ve seen ways of how we can reduce the cost,” said Blacker. “If we can source all of the timber that we need from the community, if the community has the availability of a mill to get them to mill the lumber, we will bring in volunteer teams who can work with the community to build it.”
This approach was taken with the Malahat Nation to build the Kwunew Kwasun Cultural Resource Centre, which opened in 2014. Blacker said the building is worth over $750,000, but with in-kind contributions, supplied materials, two modular trailers donated by Britco and volunteer labour the facility cost just $80,000 in funds. An architect designed a culturally appropriate building incorporating the trailers, with space for a library, computer lab and community meeting space.
While each community Write to Read collaborates with is different, Blacker sees Kwunew Kwasun as evidence that quality facilities can be built for First Nations communities at a low cost.
“We believe that we’ve got the template that can work,” he said, noting that upper levels of government have yet to realize the value of the approach. “Politicians still haven’t woken up to the fact that there is something out there that does work.”