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Kim Lehmann

As I look back over the past few years I find myself grateful for many things, but there are a few that really stand out. I had an experience while at work as a paramedic that was to change my life: trauma. This word holds various degrees of meaning in our society. For me it meant a dramatic life alteration while fighting to hold onto who I was. Anyone who has experienced trauma knows how this fight is likened to fighting invisible ghosts in the deepest of darkness. I found myself reaching for any lifeline I could while sinking like the Titanic. The trauma experience was significant, but looking back, the experiences that followed were even more powerful.

          Unable to return to work and unable to sit and wait till the water covered me, I made a sudden decision to try education as a mental/emotional distraction: VIU. I needed to get my Adult Dogwood and here was the place I could do that with other adults. I walked into Grade 11 English and sat down like a nervous little kid. Focusing had become a challenge as I read the same page over and over. But I felt free to ask questions and dialogue with other students about the material. Before long I was grateful to have a place I could go, a place I felt connected and safe. I joined the Math class soon after and although focusing was a challenge, the sense of connection became a lifeline for me.

          No one knew what had happened to me or why I was there and it didn’t matter. We were all treated as equals regardless of age, race, gender or levels of education. We were all treated with respect and encouraged to press on through the challenging stages of adult learning. I remember many days fighting to hold back the tears and frustration for fear of falling apart, and not once did a teacher or student shame me or treat me with disrespect. In short time I chose to take First- Year University courses as well as the Adult Basic Education because the teachers encouraged me to grow in my learning. Though it was a painfully challenging time, I am grateful beyond words for the encouragement, connection and the amazing things I learned.

          I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. Had it not been for the opportunity to engage with teachers and other students while actually accomplishing a goal of achieving my Dogwood Diploma, I believe that first year after the trauma experience would have ended very differently. I am grateful to all those at VIU who gave me hope one thread at a time and one day at a time.

          This is only my story. The stories I have learned from others that joined me in class are equally as important. This campus matters in this community.
It takes community to create healthy and strong individuals and VIU has been just that. The Adult Basic Education was the most important first step for many of us that have journeyed through those front doors. We need community and we need a place to learn and grow. I am not alone, but I did not know that to be true until I sat down in my first class in our little community university. Thank you to all those whose faces smiled at me every day as I walked through the doors. Your acceptance and compassion saved my life.

          When I think about VIU here in Powell River I am reminded of a true story that Anne Lamott describes in her book Hallelujah Anyway (pp. 109-119). This factual event is about a Senegalese village in Africa that along with sixteen other surrounding villages was rapidly running out of water. They were desperate. A hunger relief organization approached them to offer help. According to culture, only the men could speak. They explained that the water source was gone and were thankful for the help to relocate the village to find water. In the background the village women were desperate to speak. Finally the women were given the opportunity to speak and they shared about the visions they had of a lake under the sand right where they sat. But tribal decisions were not allowed to be made by women and visions were not enough to convince the men to dig and so they had been ignored--until that day. The relief team persuaded the men to allow the digging to begin. This was an old culture of rigid traditions, but desperation gave way to a huge shift. The women and the relief workers dug for more than a year with their hands and small shovels and the time came when they reached the lake beneath the sand. There was enough fresh water for all the surrounding villages and relocation was no longer necessary.

          What rigid traditions or ideas must we choose to set aside to dig for the lake under our community? Is relocation to other cities really in the best interest of this place we call home? We will never know the full impact that we have on individuals but I am certain that under the feet of this community is something worth staying for and digging for. In the deepest of gratitude for all the staff on campus at Powell River VIU.