Canada World Youth celebrates 40th anniversary with rave reviews

// Evelyn Cranston

We are part of a worldwide celebration,” proclaimed Erin Rennie, organizer of Vancouver’s Canada World Youth (CWY) anniversary event that occurred at the Robert Lee YMCA on Oct. 19. The event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-funded youth volunteer exchange pro- gram. Alumni from past programs, non-govern- mental organization organizers, board members, and current participants gathered to, according to Rennie, “reminisce, reflect, and plan for the future of the organization.”

While a multitude of various privately run pro- grams exist for young Canadians to travel and volunteer overseas, CWY is unique in several ways. Each project consists of a team of 18 participants, ranging from 18-29 years old. Nine of the group members are from Canada, and each is paired with a “counter-part” from the exchange country. The team spends three months in Canada working on various volunteer projects and living with their counterparts in a host family house. The program then switches phases, and the team travels to the country in which their counterparts live, and spends three months in a similar structure. The weeks of volunteer work are peppered with Educational Activity Days, and participants are encouraged to make an effort to integrate into their host communities. One statistic mentioned in the evening’s speeches was that “the annual contribution of volunteer work in host communities by CWY volunteer’s represents close to one million hours, or the equivalent of 520 full time jobs.”

CWY’s founder, Jacques Hébert, was, accord- ing to the CWY website, “a writer, editor, politician, and tireless globetrotter who travelled to more than 130 countries around the world, [who] was inspired by a deep commitment to young people and a desire to bring cultures closer together.” In 1971, he founded CWY, and to date, the program has conducted volunteer projects in 67 countries, from Rwanda to Honduras to South Africa, and given 34,000 youth what many describe as a life-changing experience. Six years later, Hébert founded CWY’s sister program, Katimavik, which focuses on volunteer work and group living within Canada. Rennie states that today, “Hébert’s vision is just as relevant. I think that if the Occupy Vancouver movement is any indicator, the youth today are just as pas- sionate and have just as much energy and hope for change as they did in 1971.”

The participants of CWY get involved with it for a host of different reasons. Jory Cadman, a first-year Global Stewardship program student at Capilano University, participated in the environmental-themed British Columbia to Ukraine exchange program in 2009-2010. She states, “I just heard about [CWY] from a family friend and I really wanted to do it because I wasn’t ready to go to school, and I really wanted to get out and see a piece of the world.” She says it is a perfect set-up because it gives participants the chance to integrate themselves into a community, and learn “exactly what [they] need to learn.”

CWY has, over the past 40 years, evolved and changed as an organization. Marg Toronchuck participated in an Indonesia program in 1978. She feels that the core values that dictate the nature of CWY programs as laid out by Hebert remain intact, but some logistical, functional aspects have changed. “There is much more diversity in the types of programs now that way back in 76-77,” she states. “Another big thing is that when we went, CIDA fully sponsored us, so we didn’t have to do any fundraising … It was not long afterwards that people had to start doing fundraising. I think that’s really good, we now have a lot more commitment from young people.”

Accepted participants are now expected to raise close to $3,000 in order to participate in CWY. Toronchuck acknowledges that having the program fully funded certainly had its benefits. “When I was on the program, and I looked at the diversity of just the Canadians themselves, it was a whole range,” she says. “It may not have been as diverse if they had to find $3,000 to be part of the program. It gave a whole lot more people an opportunity they might not have had, had they had to raise all that money.”

Cadman appreciates that CWY gives any youth the chance to be a part of it, particularly as it is a program where “you feel safe.” She did point out, however, that ideally there would be more opportunity for people to go, because she knew of people in her participant group who had been waitlisted for up to three years without getting in.

CWY prides itself on inclusivity, and comprising the teams of individual members that reflect the diversity of Canada as a whole. Look- ing ahead, a Board of Directors representative states that “we plan to deepen our commitment to building youth leadership in the coming years, working more closely with youth from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities, youth from diverse cultural communities, as well as engaging youth from lower socioeconomic groups who may have not yet had the opportunity to experience CWY life-changing programs.”

Another Global Stewardship student, Sarah VanAsselt, did the Ontario to Honduras ex- change in 2010-2011. “During the program, I experienced so many things and I met a lot of people,” she says. “I think CWY is very effective. There are a lot of components to it, and every- body has a different experience … [It has a] very effective learning environment.” In fact, CWY is part of the reason she is currently in the Global Stewardship program, as she met someone on her exchange who had gone through Capilano’s program and told her about it.

She noted that the sustainability of what participants do is not “completely there, because you’re only there for three months, which isn’t a very long time, and then you leave.”

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, a world- wide celebration is taking place. There are 40 public engagement events in 40 different cities, all over the country and internationally, being held. The hope is that these events will honour the work that the CWY youth have done and the impact they have had on various communities.

“CWY gave me direction,” says VanAsselt. “You learn a lot about yourself. You experience exactly how people live in their countries. You live with their sanitation, what they eat, their transportation.”

// Evelyn Cranston, Staff Writer
// Photo from Canada World Youth Trip by Evelyn Cranston

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