‘It’s a win-win’: 1,400 Port Moody students mobilize to send food aid to Afghanistan

Students take challenge virtual because of COVID-19 pandemic

Organizers of the annual Move4MANA challenge at Heritage Woods secondary school  weren’t about to be stilled by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Instead, they’re hoping their efforts to create a month-long virtual event will result in more packets of therapeutic food being sent to feed children in a developing country than in the previous three years the school’s 1,400 students have taken up the cause.

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Brianna Tsuyuki, one of the students in Marilyn Nunn’s Grade 12 leadership class that puts together the event, said planning for this year’s effort actually started last June. At the time, she said, everyone figured school would be back to normal in the fall and the challenge could be launched on World Food Day with the usual rousing assembly in the gymnasium to get everyone excited about participating in the lineup of group events and activities.

But when it became apparent none of that would be possible because of the ongoing public health directives to prevent transmission of COVID-19, and the segmentation of the student body into smaller learning cohorts, the scramble was on to find a new way of doing things.

Maya Tharp, another organizer, said brainstorming in early September was fast and furious.

“It was just a plethora of ideas,” she said. “Then we needed to sort them into the ones that can happen.”

Instead of an assembly, the challenge launched Friday with a special video presentation that’s being follow-up by a social media campaign over several platforms. Organized group activities have been replaced by virtual sessions that students can access through the Zoom online meeting app, or individual initiatives like going for a run, a hike, or swim. Each activity is logged into a special app that converts them into points to be cashed in for the food packets donated by the Food for Famine Society and distributed by World Vision Canada.

The unique circumstances of this school year also presented another opportunity.

With no school sports to spark the school’s Kodiak spirit that Heritage Woods is known for, Tsuyuki said Move4MANA could become the unifying force that brings students together.

“We just want everyone to get lifted up,” she said.

That’s raised hopes this year’s challenge could be the best ever, said Nunn, adding the packets will be sent to Afghanistan based upon research done by a human geography class.

Another twist brought on by the pandemic and the accompanying anxiety and stress it’s brought, is a new emphasis on mental health, said Tsuyuki. 

Students will also be able to earn points by attending virtual yoga classes, writing in a mindfulness journal or even taking on a virtual art challenge.

Oliver Hopewell, another student organizer, said the experience of pivoting this year’s event on a dime has given them a new appreciation for the advantages they do enjoy, as well as the fragility of human connections and the new ways those can be strengthened.

“It’s a win-win for us.” he said.


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