14 March 2008

Montreal Part 1: Living The Dream

I land in Montreal, deal with the onslaught of disaster in the form of missing bags, thousands of Montrealers returning from Florida and horrific road conditions only to be swept away by what is positively the coolest city in North America. It’s like a mini-Europe; cool cafes, amazing architecture, friendly multilingual people, a “staple” food and universal health care. Yes, I said it. Universal Health Care. As someone who just got slapped with a $44,000 bill to have shoulder surgeries that lasted a combined four hours, I must say that showing up, being worked on then going home really wins out, I beg anyone to differ.

I went straight to meet a team at Rapido CafĂ© in downtown Montreal (where they forced me to eat a delectable bowl of Poutine – fries covered in gravy and special Quebec cheese). I wasn’t complaining. Ophelie & Cory (unfortunately, my brain was still dead, so I forgot to take their picture) launched In Their Shoes last October with the help of five other interested now-friends, aimed at raising awareness about major global social issues in elementary and high school classrooms. From the Rwandan Genocide to the current situation in Darfur, they encourage students to think critically about what happened then go beyond, challenging the young people to find ways to help create change in their own worlds. There’s no question this project is going somewhere!

Then it was bed, as Nicolina (our AMAZING Ashoka’s Youth Venture Canada Director) had an extremely full day planned – 5 teams in 12 hours located all over the city. We were up at six and out the door by seven, only to sit in “weather traffic” for nearly an hour. It was, of course, absolutely worth it!

We started with ToutiFruits, a soon-to-be Venture team that identified a serious need for healthy food options in their school’s cafeteria. To meet this need, they decided to launch their own co-op smoothie company, using all natural (and organic when possible) ingredients. Every Tuesday they use their break to whip up four different kinds of delectable mixes (which they came up with themselves) and sell them for a reasonable $1.50 during nutrition. The skills they’re learning go far beyond healthy eating – from managing a budget to tracking sales, from marketing and advertising to quality control, the twelve students involved are gaining valuable life lessons that will no-doubt benefit them in the future.

From there it was a short walk down a snow-scaped avenue to meet Amelie and Mark of www.StayNomad.com (launching soon). Actually, Amelie was in person but Mark was dialed in from Germany through skype. This was my first “e-interview” and it went surprisingly well. No sounds delays, no frozen screens and no irritating “illegal operations” that are oh-so-common while video-chatting across oceans! www.StayNomad.com was an idea that came to Amelie and Mark while they were on a 5-month biking trip across Europe. They realized that to fully appreciate a different culture, it was crucial to meet people who were locals – talk with them, stay with them, cook with them. If we as a society were going to truly “get” other cultures, we had to be invested in not just the country, but individuals who represented that country. With an anticipated site launch date of early April, Amelie and Mark will be offering committed travels the opportunity to set up profiles and connect with people all over the world. Through friend’s referrals, online chats and opportunities to set up meetings, users will be able to plan their next big adventure not from travel books, but from actual residents, breaking down cultural barriers while building a global network of “nomads.” Pretty cool stuff.

After we said farewell to Mark in Germany, Amelie offered to whip up a delicious Lebanese lunch, which meant hummus. I love hummus more than life itself, so I was extremely content. Part 2 of my sojourn to Montreal is coming soon…

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