Project leaders stand on the ground which will house a childcare and community space, the first of its kind in Hope. From left are Jeff Kuhn, lead pastor at Grace Baptist Church; Jodi McBride, executive director of the Read Right Society; and Ken Hansen, Chief of the Yale First Nation. Emelie Peacock photo

New B.C. daycare a model for reconciliation

Yale First Nation, Baptist church and Read Right to open 37 childcare spaces

Start reconciliation and relationships when a child reaches their first birthday.

That’s the message of an ambitious project recently started by three Hope organizations.

Swetexl (pronounced swa-teh-hill), meaning rainbow in the Halq’emeylem language, is a new daycare, preschool and community space in the Lower Mainland community.

The licensed Swetexl Daycare and Preschool, opening in September, will have 37 spaces for children 12 months to school age. Daily activities will include teaching the children reconciliation and acceptance through action.

“If we start young with our youth here, native and non- native, and they learn to respect and acknowledge similarities in each other’s cultures and faiths, during the school years when it’s the hardest times developing as a youth they’ll be able to relate to people rather than point a finger,” Hansen said.

“I think that will help to eliminate racism in our community, if we can start the next generation off understanding each other and not putting each other down.”

The three founders of the project — Jodi McBride of the Read Right Society, Ken Hansen of Yale First Nation and Jeff Kuhn of the Grace Baptist Church — are demonstrating this by committing to the 10-year project as equal partners.

“It wasn’t the church trying to come in and lead something, it was us walking together,” Kuhn said, adding the relationship will be bumpy at times but there is a solid commitment to work through differences.

“In our church there’s this concern to help all people in our community, not just First Nations but everybody outside of here, but there’s a lot of things we just don’t understand about First Nation culture, and when you don’t understand there’s some fear, there’s some false conclusions,” Kuhn said, adding this new project will help build understanding.

Hansen noted there are strong beliefs in Christianity within his community and it is important to be clear about the acceptance of all, regardless of which God they choose to pray to.

To date such an ambitious reach across communities and faith groups hasn’t been undertaken in Hope, the partners say.

Reconciliation and building bridges between cultures and faiths is one goal of the joint project.

The young children will be exposed to an indigenous curriculum in the daycare and preschool, supported by Yale First Nation. What exactly this looks like is still being determined, Hansen said.

Part of the project is a common room, where all three partners can run programs. These could include parenting, language and life skills courses. McBride said this space will be a way to address the needs of families as a whole.

“It’s an opportunity for our mothers and fathers out there to collaborate and learn together,” Hansen said.

The need is great, McBride said, as only one licenced daycare is operating in Hope.

“There are families who take their kids to Seabird, there’s a preschool there, because they can’t get in in Hope. Other families have moved away from the community because they couldn’t find childcare. So it’s a significant need,” she said.

Swetexl will also be the only daycare in the area to accept children as young as 12 months, allowing parents to go back to work right after maternity leave.

Hansen added there are a number of Yale First Nation members, young single parents, wanting to move home and need a space for their children.

The Read Right Society will take the lead on operating the daycare, running it as a social enterprise. Any money made over the operating costs will be put back into running the daycare.

The program received capital funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, to construct a building. First Baptist Church agreed to lease the land for the duration of the 10 years in exchange for the building once those years are up.

According to the ministry $33 million is being given out to 103 projects in 52 communities, to create around 3,800 childcare spaces.

The ministry stated Dec. 4 the money is going to projects of greatest need including “infant and toddler spaces; spaces on school grounds or co-located in a community hub; inclusive spaces in child-development centres; Indigenous child-care spaces; and employer-based spaces.”

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