It was 3 a.m. on a hot summer night in August 2005 when a school bus loaded with medical and school supplies headed south from Toronto. On board were four members of CUPE 4400 (Toronto school board). Their mission: Deliver the bus and its contents to a school in the mountains of Guatemala.
The four recounted that experience for about 20 school children attending a “kid’s camp” at the 45th annual CUPE Ontario convention in Niagara Falls, Ont., May 21-24.
“Where is Guatemala?” one of the four asked the children. “Africa?” came the hesitant reply. “Try again,” said Bobby Nand, a temporary CUPE representative and one of the Guatemala foursome. An instructor by trade, Nand knew how to steer the children to the right answer. When one of them got it, she won a colourful hat.
“What is international solidarity?” came the next question. And from there the four – Nand, a shop steward when he isn’t a rep, fellow stewards Nancy Arnot and Sanjit Rehal and local treasurer Tom Ciaccone – took the children on a virtual trip to the Central American country. Miguel Lima, a fifth CUPE 4400 member, met the group in his native Guatemala.
The four shared their knowledge of the cultural differences they saw on their trip. They talked of food, clothing and birds. A slide show brought the children into classrooms that are very different from their own in a land faraway.
Toronto’s San Lorenzo invited CUPE 4400 to buy the bus and join a “Caravan of Hope” with three other buses. The local contributed about $7,000 to the bus project and assisted with a fundraiser that earned another $10,000 to eventually build two schools in a region hit by a natural disaster.
The CUPE 4400 work continues in association with the Ottawa-based Stovetop Project that assists Guatemalan families.
“We’ll also be discussing ways to build international solidarity with teachers and other education staff members and their unions in Guatemala,” Nand said.