Cape Breton Youth Summit on Child Poverty held in New Waterford

Child poverty is an issue that affects one in three Cape Breton children.

The summit featured talks from community members who experienced poverty growing up

About 120 Grade 6 students gathered for the Cape Breton Youth Summit on Child Poverty. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Child poverty is an issue that affects one in three Cape Breton children.

On Friday, a group of about 120 Grade 6 students gathered to talk about what they can do to help at the Cape Breton Youth Summit on Child Poverty at Greenfield Elementary in New Waterford.

The students heard stories from local community members who experienced poverty growing up, including Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke.

Students also heard from representatives of the various agencies that work with poverty issues on the island.

Diane Lewis is the teacher advisor for the Greenfield Keep the Promise anti-poverty group and says the summit was inspired by a Canadian Teacher's Federation movement pressing the federal government to keep a commitment made in 1989 to end child poverty by the year 2000.

"We're 26 years into that promise now. And the startling statistics that one in three children in Cape Breton are living in poverty, we feel is unacceptable," said Lewis.

She sees it in her classroom.

"Just this morning, we were collecting food for the food bank here. One of my own students stopped and said, 'We had nothing in the cupboard to give you for the food bank.' And that was certainly tough to hear," said Lewis.

Greenfield student Amy Wilson has seen child poverty in the clothes children wear.

"Some people are coming to school and they had the same jacket on in the winter and it's only a spring jacket and they're freezing," she said.

Wilson is hoping the Greenfield summit will inspire the visiting students to start Keep the Promise groups at their own schools.

'We could raise money for people in poverty'

Nicholas Robinson from Mountainview Elementary says he gained a better understanding of what some of his peers are going through.

"Not having much money. Having to feel embarrassed if you're living in poverty, and hiding it all the time from everyone. Pretending you're happy when you're actually really, extremely sad and having not too much food and clothing or money at all," he said.

The summit has given him a few ideas about how kids — and the Prime Minister — can help.

"We could raise money for people in poverty and try to start petitions and stuff for the governments," said Robinson.

Delegates from 23 schools throughout the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board took part in the summit.

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