Keyera helps students stretch as leaders

$150,000 gift honours Peter Lougheed's impact

Lindsay Penner - 25 September 2018

In a 2017 blog post, Isabella de Goeij remembers walking through Parque Central in Cunén, Guatemala, and being followed by a little boy. "Vamos a ver tu cámara," he said. She politely responded "no" - aware that if she bent down to show him her camera, he would likely run off with it. The boy grabbed her arm and started begging for quetzales (Guatemalan currency). De Goeij tried to break free. "I looked into his eyes and saw a mixture of anger and desperation," she writes.

At the time, de Goeij, now a fifth-year student at the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus, was on a "stretch experience" - a self-directed learning project required of all Peter Lougheed Leadership College scholars. De Goeij's stretch experience took her to Cunén, where she taught English pronunciation at the Colegio Mixto Bilingüe Intercultural, a small Guatemalan school that emphasizes traditional Mayan language and cultural education.

De Goeij, who hails from Wetaskiwin, Alta., said her time in Cunén was "eye opening and life altering. Everyday life there is so different from back home."

Her transformative experience was made possible by Keyera Corp., whose $150,000 donation supports core programming in the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the U of A. Lougheed scholars learn leadership development through interdisciplinary courses, mentorship and collaborative workshops.

Keyera's gift to the leadership college honours the legacy of the Honourable Peter Lougheed, who served as chairman of Keyera's board of directors for nine years until his passing in 2012. "Lougheed's passion and vision were instrumental in shaping Keyera's business," says Sarah Wilson Cook, manager of communications and community investment for Keyera. "Students like Isabella embody the kind of community leadership Lougheed inspired and Keyera stands for. They will go on to make a positive impact in our communities and around the world."

De Goeij's "stretch experience" in Guatemala took the self-proclaimed "born and raised farm girl" well outside her comfort zone. Alone in another country and with only basic Spanish language skills, she had no choice but to become more independent. She faced unexpected challenges, from sickness and wild dog bites, to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. "There were times where all I wanted to do was book a flight back home," she says.

The experience also helped dispel some of de Goeij's cultural assumptions. She realized the fears she had - about the young boy in the market, for example - were based on her personal biases. "Even though the people here have so little, they give so much," she says.

The people of Cunén, including her homestay family, made the challenges of living there worthwhile. In the end, she found it easy to connect despite language barriers. "There are kind people everywhere in our world," she says. "You can find them simply by opening up and offering a smile."