Amy Reid, Surrey Now-Leader
Surrey teen Abhayjeet Sachal recently received the Vimy Pilgrimage Award in Europe and on his journey met the Royals during the 100th anniversary Vimy Ridge ceremony in France.
Abhayjeet, 15, was one of 17 students in Canada selected from more than 300 applicants. Only two B.C. students received the award this year, and he was the only one from Surrey.
The award “recognizes the actions of young people who demonstrate outstanding service, positive contributions, notable deeds, bravery or leadership.” It included a fully funded week-long educational program in France and Belgium from April 7 to 16 to study Canada’s First World War effort, via classroom education and daily field trips to important First World War sites.
A highlight of the Surrey teen’s trip was meeting royalty, he said.
“I was chosen to meet Prince William and Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau at the Vimy 100 ceremony on April 9,” said Abhayjeet, who goes to Seaquam Secondary. “I was one of five students selected by the governor general’s office to meet Prince William and Prime Minister Trudeau. I was the only student from B.C. to meet them…. I got to go up to the front and sit right in the front left of the entire stage.
“Being there in person, with Justin Trudeau, and all the Royals, they literally walked down right in front of us.”
Abhayjeet described the meeting with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, as short, “because he was in a hurry.”
“It wasn’t the best quality but we got a picture,” he added excitedly. “We had to take the pictures in a hurry. Then we had a short conversation with Prince William about our experience at Vimy.”
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was on Easter Monday, 1917. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge during the First World War. The victory is said to be Canada’s “coming of age” as a nation. Nearly 3,600 people died.
Abhayjeet said the trip opened his eyes about the importance of “remembering our past.”
Prior to the trip, he researched a soldier who died in the battle: Harold Bell, 23, of Manitoba.
“I looked into his family history and how he fought and died,” Abhayjeet said, adding he saw his name at the memorial site in France. “It was amazing…. So often when we hear about the big numbers about World War One, 18 million people died, it’s hard to think of those people who were actually people, 15-year-olds were going out to war…. That personal connection I felt really struck me in a way I’d never felt before.” He now hopes to share that personal connection with his fellow classmates.
This was the second time the Surrey teen met Trudeau, the first being last summer. Abhayjeet was in the Now-Leader last August, after a “life-changing” two-week trip to the Arctic with Students on Ice.
Meanwhile, Abhayjeet has founded an organization called Break the Divide, through which he aims to connect local students with people from different walks of life via video calls.
“Our first project is connecting students in Inuvik in North West Territories with students in B.C. We’re having dialogues about different issues that are affecting us and personalizing issues we hear about so often,” he said. Issues like climate change, inter-generational trauma and the high suicide rates there. He said he hopes to expand his organization globally. “We want to get sustainable actions out of these video calls,” he said.