Watson Lake is becoming revitalized; there are new people in town and they are young and full of energy and ideas.
Jesse Jewel is one of them.
Not content with a full-time job teaching at the secondary school, he is supervising and teaching at the rock-climbing wall every Tuesday night.
Thursday nights you can find him on the basketball court.
The ski hill sees him snowboarding and the lakes in the area have provided him with some excellent ice fishing.
Since Jewel’s arrival, things like fundraising efforts in Watson Lake have acquired a new dimension—for example, the high school recently hosted a wildly successful sushi dinner.
A play at the high school was highlighted by students staging a demonstration, complete with placards and loud vocal protest about the local disgrace of garbage burning at the dump. Jewel is committed to getting his students to feel involved and empowered.
He grew up on an Ontario farm that has been in his family since 1867—not an environment one would think would produce a wanderer.
“I never wanted to be a farmer,” said Jewel. “It wasn’t the hard work that put me off, it was the fact that you couldn’t ever leave. Farming totally tied my dad to one place. It worked for him; he was happy, but it wasn’t for me.”
For three summers, Jewel hitchhiked to Alaska to work at a fishing lodge.
At 15, he and some friends toured Europe.
“We didn’t have a clue; we just went there, discovering how to travel as we did it,” he said. “There was no planning—we decided to go and we went. It was a great experience.”
Attending the University of North Bay, Jewel applied to do his practice teaching out of the country. He wound up in Cameroon.
Africa is the sort of place one loves or hates; there seems to be no in-between.
Jewel loved it
“They have so little, yet their spirit is so strong.”
Two weeks before graduation, he still hadn’t applied for any jobs.
“All my classmates were putting out applications all over the place and getting job offers. I guess I was waiting for something to happen, and it did.”
He got a call to go and work for Free the Children, an organization involved in creating clean water facilities and building schools. His work took him to Uganda, Kenya, India, Kuwait and Tanzania.
Why would he leave a job so suited to a young man with a severe case of wanderlust?
Wasn’t that a dream job for him?
“Part of my job was to take groups of 24 high school kids to these sites and supervise their volunteer work. It was intense,” he said with a laugh.
“Hard to believe, I know, but all the travelling got to be a bit much; when I started I thought I’d never get enough, but after two years I just wanted to stay in one place for awhile.”
Watson Lake is that place. Jewel arrived from Tanzania, after a short detour to the family farm to store his stuff.
He likes his new home and this fresh adventure.
“There is so much to do here,” he says. “It’s amazing what is available in this little town. The quality of life here is really good.”
The teaching is rewarding too. He likes introducing students to new ideas and ways of doing things.
“Moving them out of their comfort zone can lead to creativity—they have to learn to do new things. It’s good for building self-esteem.
“I believe experience and exposure will give kids a reason to care; it feeds the human spirit.”
Jewel is a believer in the “power of one,” one person doing something with their whole heart can lead to changes for many.
“It’s what my friends and I talk about a lot: making positive changes. We care about making a difference.”
He is also aware of the other needs of his students, the challenges they will be facing.
“Retraining will be a large part of careers in the future; it already is.
“Not many people will have just one career in their working lifetime any more. It is really important that our kids learn how to learn, and how to be flexible.”
What keeps him optimistic in these troubled times of economic meltdown, global warming and lack of faith in leadership?
Who and what will make things better?
“I think the recession is great, at least in this country,” said Jewel. “People will learn the value of a potato.
“The times of rampant consumerism will change. I don’t believe it will disappear, but my hope is people will think longer and harder about where their stuff comes from, where it’ll end up when they are finished with it and what the costs of their goods are to people in other parts of the world as well as to the environment.”
He mentions Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff as a good tool in helping to make kids aware of these very issues.
“My generation is looking forward to the time when we are in charge,” he said. “I think we can turn it around and make things a lot better for everyone.”
It’s good to know there is someone like Jewel in our community—a young man who is modeling a healthy lifestyle in a way that makes it look attractive and desirable, a person who is willing to contribute his energy by sharing his enthusiasm and who is drawing others into his vision of hope and a belief in a bright future.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.