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St. Avila welcomes exchange students

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From left,  Amy Mann, 9, an Ecole St. Avila student, with Yi 'Hebe' Zhao, 11, who is living with the Mann family during the 10 day art exchange. The exchange's art work will be on display today at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

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From left, Amy Mann, 9, an Ecole St. Avila student, with Yi 'Hebe' Zhao, 11, who is living with the Mann family during the 10 day art exchange. The exchange's art work will be on display today at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Photo Store

Fifteen Chinese art students are exploring Canada for the first time with the help of students from École St. Avila in University Heights.

The students from the Yang Mythos Art Education Centre range from six to 12-years-old, are in an art exchange program with St. Avila’s for 10 days. In February, 21 Canadian students travelled to Shenzhen, a city north of Hong Kong on the mainland of China with a population of over 10 million people. Now, it’s their turn to host.

"Basically every morning all the kids are up at St. Avila for art projects every morning," said Alex McMullen, mother of one of the students from St. Avila’s. "Then we have field trips for the afternoon, things where we can share our culture like going out for a barbecue with hotdogs and hamburgers, it’s very Canadian. They would never do this at home."   

"I think Canada has lots of plants," said Yi ‘Hebe’ Zhao, 11. "And China has a lot of people, but Canada has just a little."

Gordon Campbell, who was principal of St. Avila before his retirement this year, started the program in 2009. He said it was important for him to show that everyone fits in everywhere.

"The main purpose behind it is to teach children about other cultures, have a global understanding, and have fun while doing it," said Campbell. "My goal was to show all the kids that they belong and they’re all part of this larger community, it doesn’t really matter where you were born, you still fit in somewhere."    

Karen Cornelius, the Winnipeg artist teaching the students during their visit, said "Art becomes their language of communication."

Jennifer Mann is a mother of three girls aged nine, 12 and 13, and is hosting three more Chinese girls as part of the exchange: two 11-year-olds and a nine year old, including Hebe, who is fond of Mann’s house.

"One, it’s big, two it’s comfortable, and three, I like it," said Hebe, who lives in an apartment building with her family in Shen-zhen, a common practice, said McMullen.

She’s participating because it was a great opportunity for her 12-year-old to go over to China, and hosting the girls has opened their horizons.

"We’ve only had the girls here for a little bit so far, but as soon as they came out of the airport, and they hadn’t seen much of Canada yet, they said ‘I love Canada, it’s so beautiful’," said Mann.

All the artwork the students created during their visit will be on display tonight (July 24) at the Winnipeg Art Gallery from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and see the international artwork.

Meeting Winnipeggers has been a pleasant surprise for Hebe.

"People here are friendly," said Hebe. "They are very kind."

"I want to live in Canada, it is beautiful, and it is safe," said Hebe, whose mother jokingly told her not to come back home. "She says I’m noisy."

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