SURREY — A Seaquam Secondary student was one of only 120 students in the world who explored the Arctic this summer with Students on Ice.
"It's one thing to learn about these issues and read about the issues but when you go to the environment you feel everything there," Abhayjeet Sachal, 14, told the Now. "Humans act on what they feel, not on what they know. So the expedition gave me that chance to delve into this passion of mine."
Students on Ice began 16 years ago and since then more than 2,500 students and educators from 52 countries have participated in the journeys in an effort to bridge cultures and understanding with young from around the globe.
More than 80 per cent of students are fully funded to participate, thanks to public and private sponsors. Abhayjeet received a $12,000 scholarship from the U.S. embassy to cover most of the trip's costs. He applied after his brother saw a post on Facebook about entering for the trip.
Abhayjeet, who lives in Surrey but goes to school in Delta, figured the environmental initiatives he's participated in at school would help him secure a spot on the expedition, as would a TEDxKIDS talk he did where he spoke about using creativity in everyday life.
And he was right. In late May, he got the email that he had been accepted.
The two-week trip, from July 21 to Aug. 5, was a ship and land-based journey exploring Canada's eastern Arctic and Western Greenland where the team engaged in research, listened to elders and visited remote communities.
Abhayjeet said the trip was "life-changing."
It all began in Ottawa with a surprise greeting from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The group later flew to Iqaluit, Nunavut to board the expedition vessel and set sail.
His favourite moment of the trip was on day six when the group was given an hour to do anything they wanted in Ramah Bay, Labrador, an ancient Inuit village.
"I took the opportunity to soak it all in," Abhayjeet recalled. "I found the environment mesmerizing. The scenery was absolutely beautiful."
Just a few days into the trip he saw nine polar bears.
"There were polar bears floating on sea ice. They were so majestic and huge," he continued. "We also saw seal carcasses, birds were eating those, and it was interesting how interconnected the environment was. Once you see all those animals and the life in it, it really gives you the idea that everything is so much greater than you think."
Another highlight was the Jacobshaven ice fiord, often called the iceberg factory of the Arctic. Abhayjeet said the group had a moment of silence and he could "literally hear them melting."
"I really understood how climate change is affecting us. All of that ice, all of that scenery, will be gone," he added.
The group also went kayaking and even took a dip in the cold sea.
But it wasn't all about the scenery. The group learned about the serious issues facing the communities as well.
One stop was to the Moravian Mission of Hebron on the east coast of Labrador, a National Historic Site, where the group learned the detrimental affects of the Inuit being forcibly relocated in 1959 due to attempts to colonize.
Their visit to the community coincided with the release of a National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy.
"We learned about the high rate of suicides in the communities, which is 10 times the national average," Abhayjeet revealed. "I have these friends whose grandparents committed suicide. So it really inspires me to take action against these types of issues."
He also learned how climate change would affect the communities.
"Now I have friends in these communities whose lives are being changed by climate change," he said. "They can't go hunting anymore... because the sea ice isn't as reliable so it's truly affecting the whole ecosystem."
When he returns to school for Grade 10 at Delta's Seaquam Secondary next year, Abhayjeet plans to share the knowledge he gained on the trip.
"It really inspired me to take action against these type of issues," he said of the experience. "I want to educate people, starting from initiatives that can work toward finding a solution toward climate change, changing peoples' ideas and lifestyles so we can help the world."