Catapult Leadership Camp inspires
Mongolian delegation has life changing experience at Wolfville’s Acadia University
It’s an experience that has helped shape Nova Scotia’s future leaders for the past decade and now lessons shared will be impacting communities half a world away.
Catapult Leadership Society executive director Lori Barker said the Catapult Leadership Camp, held annually at Wolfville’s Acadia University, is aimed at students with natural leadership qualities who have limited opportunities due to any number of barriers.
The camp, which is free of charge, provides opportunities for 50 future leaders to develop skills. This year’s camp was held from Aug. 17- 24. Participants, Nova Scotian students who are about to enter Grade 10, are nominated by educators or by organizations that work with students in Grade 9. However, a delegation from Mongolia that attended this year’s camp was an exception.
They were sponsored by Dartmouth-based Erdene Resource Development Corporation, a mining exploration company with a focus on Mongolia and Catapult’s founding sponsor. The delegation included Yanjmaa Jutmaan, executive director of the Mitchell Foundation, and students Bilegjargal Narankhun and Dashnyam Khudree, who are 16 and 15 years old ,respectively.
The Mongolian delegates want to adapt Catapult’s model to empower and teach leadership skills to students in Mongolia.
A life-changing experience
Narankhun said that he loves Canada and the Catapult experience was “amazing, start to finish.” There was a competition for the two spots for Mongolian students and about 300 applied. They had to write a 250-word essay on the topic of leadership and go through an interview process. Narankhun wrote a 500-word essay.
Although he came out on top, he said he was “scratching his head” thinking about what to say and he now realizes that it takes more than strength, confidence and discipline to be a good leader.
“If I made that essay right now, I would have made a lot better essay with more important facts and experiences, overall a much better essay,” he said.
Narankhun said he enjoyed the nightly “family share” group sessions. He got to meet amazing people and make great friends. Narankhun can brag when he gets home that he met and played basketball with Will Njoku of NBA fame and he got to meet “the great musician”, Terry Kelly. Njoku and Kelly were among the guest presenters at the camp.
Khudree said the Catapult experience was “phenomenal” and he was impressed with the supportive environment. Before participating, he thought the program would involve hanging out and playing a few games but this wasn’t the case.
“Five or six years ago, I had a goal to conquer the world. I didn’t really Catapult Leadership Society executive director Lori Barker, left, with members of a delegation from Mongolia that attended the Catapult Leadership Camp. The delegation included students Dashnyam Khudree and Bilegjargal Narankhun and Yanjmaa Jutmaan, the executive director of the Mitchell Foundation.
know how, I didn’t have any leadership skills,” he said. “But now, after this, I have a feeling I can conquer the world.”
He found the people in Canada really nice and was impressed when a stranger in a cafeteria offered him a green tea, which he loves. People here are passionate about helping others and Khudree said you don’t really get this anywhere else in the world.
He said the staff at Catapult cared for the participants and helped them. Anyone who has the opportunity to experience the Catapult program should take it.
“Everyone I’ve known was emotional just because the staff was there for them,” Khudree said. “Sometimes their parents, their family members, their own brothers and sisters aren’t there for them but the staff members were like our family.”
Although he is sad to see the leadership camp end, Khudree has been inspired and filled with confidence. He has set the goal of one day returning as a program counsellor “to give children the same experience I had this year for many years.”
“This camp will change your life, it will change your perspective about everything,” Khudree said.
One such life-changing experience was being exposed to Acadia’s S.M.I.L.E. (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program. He was partnered with Matthew, who Khudree described as “the kindest, softest kid I’ve ever met” and who helped Khudree find a deeper appreciation of the fact that we are all equal.
Jutmaan, a senior advisor to the Parliament of Mongolia, was nominated to attend by Mongolia MP Undraa Agvaanluvsan and went through the staff training process. She said they don’t have a leadership camp similar to Catapult in Mongolia and it would be challenging to replicate the experience, which is “exceptional.”
“I was not only just an observer to staff, I was like a camper here,” Jutmaan said. “I did all the activities that the youth did and it was really not only fun, it was emotional, too.”
She said the camp was planned beautifully. The staff cares about and works with each student, recognizing individual strengths and tailoring activities to them. She was pleased that they took an in-
terest in understanding Mongolian culture.
Jutmaan said the experience
also included inspirational lectures and the camp’s boundary breaking exercises take you into unfamiliar territory emotionally. She said this can be difficult but “that’s how the leader grows.”
Adding to diversity
Barker said having the Mongolian delegates take part added to the diversity of the camp and helped introduce the Nova Scotian participants to another culture.
Students at the camp have their phones taken from them and Barker said, “they actually form some pretty deep relationships while they’re here.”
“It really is a family of support,” Barker said. “These students leave with a network of peers that they know they can lean on.”
Catapult founder and chairwoman Jane Roy said the program is empowering student leaders while shaping a community conscience that will provide leadership in communities across Nova Scotia — and beyond.
“It is an honour to share the heart and soul of Catapult with other incredible youth from the opposite side of the world,” Roy said. “What a perfect way to celebrate our 10-year anniversary.”