By Quinton Gordon, Manager, Strategic Engagement
“While it might be easier to open up a classroom and have a formal discussion about how people are settling, I much prefer the crunch of a wooded path or the rhythm of the tide to provide our youth with space to process.”
From youthful adventures in the creeks and forests of his family’s acreage near Calgary, to the West Coast trails of Vancouver Island, Robin McGeough has found connection and community through being outdoors in nature. Now as a Youth Settlement Worker at ICA, Robin is helping others to feel invited into the outdoors by making nature an accessible and welcoming place for people of diverse backgrounds, identities, and abilities.
McGeough grew up spending time in the mountains outside of Calgary, Alberta, with summertime adventures at his grandparents’ home here on Vancouver Island. Being on the coast inspired a love of the marine environment and his sights were set on becoming a marine biologist until, on a school trip to Tanzania, he discovered a passion for human rights advocacy and a desire to have a positive impact on the communities he found himself travelling in.
Graduating from Queen’s University with a major in global development studies and a minor in geography, McGeough took a critical look at what it really meant to be “helpful” and what “aid” looked like from a grassroots perspective. Working on a micro-finance program with Peruvian farmers, he was immersed in an inter-cultural environment of community partners and went on to do his master’s degree in curriculum, teaching and learning studies at the University of Toronto, writing his thesis on the importance of understanding cross-cultural dynamics in health education in South Africa.
From Canada, McGeough left for Gotō Island, a small island off the coast of Japan, where he taught English to classes that ranged in size from two to 500 students, but it was here that his ideas around infusing nature into the classroom experience deepened as his classes studied farming and made their own noodles from buckwheat they grew on the front lawn of the school.
In Ghana, Robin worked with Journalists for Human Rights, developing a curriculum that explored the foundations of human rights journalism and marginalized populations, and in 2013, he moved to Rwanda to work with World Vision, where he focused on working with teachers to develop a community practice around participatory education models, a program that brought together 45 teachers to develop a reference manual used to deepen student engagement with learning content.
Resettling in Victoria after many years away was not easy, and nature offered McGeough a way to reconnect, decompress, make friends, and build community. Through his position at the Mountain Equipment Co-op, Robin took up MEC’s challenge to staff to come-up with 25 “Big Day Out” ideas that would receive funding to get people outside. Collaborating with ICA, he set a goal to share the awe-inspiring beauty of East Sooke Park with a small group of new Canadians. In August 2017, six brave adventurers were joined by Chris and Pam from Pacifica Paddling to head out on stand-up paddle boards (SUPS) on the warm waters of Beecher Bay. The group was joined by Randy Chipps and his wife Laura from the Scia’new Nation, who have occupied this area for thousands of years, to teach the group about the area’s cultural, historical, and environmental significance for their people.
As it turned out, this beautiful, shared, cross-cultural experience led McGeough to a fulltime opportunity with the Youth and Family Services team at ICA, where his work is focused on building community, advocating for youth, and developing opportunities for them to process their settlement experience.
“One of our more memorable activities at a workshop we hosted with the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School, was taking a forest bath in a nearby woods. We focused our senses and took in the forest as we explored in silence, finding ourselves feeling clearer and more connected than when we had walked in.”
Robin continues to develop new programs at ICA to get youth out into nature and to advocate for broad spectrum diversity in media representation around being in the outdoors. He strives to bring lived experience together with adding more positive role models in media channels, creating a positive feedback loop to allow people who might not see themselves as being part of the outdoor community to find their own niche.