This story is a part of our RBC Future Launch Community Challenge (RBC FLCC) series, showcasing how youth are giving back and inspiring change by leading projects to address their communities’ needs.

Eskasoni First Nation, in Eastern Cape Breton Island, is the largest Mi’kmaq community in the world. Deeply rooted in the Mi’kmaq culture, the Eskasoni community has a proud history of supporting its young people.

With the support of the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, Community Foundations of Canada, the Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation and the Eskasoni Band Council, youth leader Bree Menge is ready to reciprocate that support, and give back to the community through her project Our Eskasoni Cares.

“This break we all received to be with our families, as per mandatory lockdown, has recharged us all on what is truly important: family and community,” said Menge.

Project leader Bree Menge with her children enjoying the sunflower fields in Eskasoni First Nation

Through Our Eskasoni Cares, Menge is working to provide support for community health and personal hygiene practices. As explained by Menge, local families are often forced to choose between food and hygiene products when it comes to budgeting and financial planning. Food is at the top of the financial priority list, as feeding their family is critical, but hygiene sometimes gets missed.

“Our goal is to inform our community about the importance of hygiene,” said Menge. The original aim of Our Eskasoni Cares was to host a series of workshops where participants could learn about good personal hygiene practices and put together bundles of personal care products to give to community members in need.

Now, those care packages are being delivered to elders and other individuals in the Eskasoni community. Amid the physical distancing precautions of the pandemic, the drop-off process has been tough, especially when completing an act and providing a gift that is inherently compassionate and affectionate.

“As Mi’kmaw people we are naturally affectionate through gestures, whether it be a simple handshake or a hug,” said Menge. “Offering our packages and not being able to do a gesture was very different and in a way it was saddening, but we know what we did was perfect timing given our new normal.”

Stronger communities are built together  

Menge is proud of the project, and is honoured to have played a role in keeping the community safe amid the virus. COVID-19 has helped the community of Eskasoni, much like many communities around the world, discover some of the most positive and progressive things in their community, as well as some of the challenges that will need to be addressed for a healthy and sustainable future.

“We have seen that we are not as prepared as we should be when it comes to the needs of addressing mental health [issues], as we have seen a rise in anxiety amongst our youth,” said Menge. But she believes in the power of her community to make changes for the better.

“Together, with the proper mindset, we can achieve and succeed through a pandemic as long as we work together, for each other, with each other.”

To learn more about this project and Eskasoni First Nation, visit their Facebook page.

The RBC FLCC is a collaboration between Community Foundations of Canada and community foundations from coast to coast to coast. The #RBCFLChallenge youth-led projects are supported by RBC Foundation’s contribution of $2.2 million.