What started out as a simple creative writing exercise has morphed into a letter writing campaign that is bringing a little bit of home to soldiers oversees.
Operation Canadian Soldier is the brainchild of South Delta Secondary history teacher Jackie Friesen.
She came up with the idea during her first full year teaching in 2013 at Sands Secondary in North Delta and has since brought the idea to SDSS.
“I wanted to do something for Remembrance Day that wasn’t a video or a worksheet,” Friesen said.
“I always thought about the Canadian soldiers serving oversees and what that must be like, missing home and such, so basically I did some research and found that there were places that we could send letters to, so I thought why not have the students actually write the letters and send them off.”
She said in the first year there were 90 letters written, but when she started teaching at SDSS a few years ago, the project really took off.
“This year I asked the social studies department if they wanted to get on board with me and most of them did and the result was 800 letters,” she said, adding that the letters were sent to soldiers in Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Afghanistan, Latvia and the Ukraine.
Friesen has many family ties to the military.
Her great grandfather served in the First World War, her grandfather served in the Second World War, her dad served in the Royal Canadian Artillery and her brother is an RCMP officer.
“My dad is an emigrant from South Africa, so one of the things that he engrained in my brother and I was having a respect for the soldiers who came before and time served,” she said.
The SDSS students wrote letters talking about life here in Canada, the sports and extra-curricular activities they are involved in.
“Just really things that are going on here and in Canada. Things like snowboarding and playing hockey with the Delta Academy, what my day is like and playing on weekends,” said Grade 11 student Easton Elmer.
Last year the students sent 250 letters and several of the students received a letter back.
“It was pretty cool. Only a couple ever come back, so it was nice to be one of the few. It was interesting,” recalled Grade 10 student Aida Chubbs.
International Grade 10 student Si Chen wrote three letters this year and also wrote letters last year.
“Last year when I wrote my letter it was my first year here in South Delta, so I talked about my first experiences being in Canada,” she said. “This year it was more about the different cultures, weather, things like that.”
Friesen said the letters make an impact.
“I tell my students you have no idea where this letter is going. It might be in one of the worst areas in Afghanistan and they are missing home, so bring them home through this letter. Those five minutes where they are reading about Aida’s horse or Easton’s hockey academy is just five minutes that they don’t have to think about where they are or what they are doing.”