By Louis Moubarak
Canada World Youth held an event in Charlottetown last week to promote the benefits of international youth volunteering through the inspiring personal stories of three former Canada World Youth program participants — all Charlottetown residents — who say they were changed by their experience.
Mathieu Arsenault, Conor Leggott and Betty-Jo McCarville have become advocates for sustainable change in their community. Maritime families and community groups are currently hosting Canada World Youth volunteers in Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Truro, Halifax and St. John’s.
Earlier this month, Canada World Youth celebrated the talent, determination and social engagement of four impressive young leaders, during our 2012 Youth Leadership Awards. Like the majority of our 35,000 program participants over the past 40 years, most of these young people will go on to fill important leadership roles in society.
Our two Canadian laureates, from Montreal this year, are addressing the need for more local, sustainable food sources for urban populations through their Urban-Rural Farm Exchange project. A laureate from Benin, West Africa, co-founded a network of journalists, which, through lobbying and awareness campaigns, has contributed to an increase, from 50 per cent to 65 per cent, in the population’s access to clean water and adequate sanitation, in just a few short years. Our final laureate, from Nepal, founded a school that educates 250 children – all victims of the 1996-2006 Nepali Civil War, while providing essential educational services to some 2,000 people from surrounding communities.
As these inspiring examples demonstrate – and there are many more – youth play a vital and unique role in international co-operation. That’s not hard to imagine with over 50 per cent of the population of developing countries being youth. In addition to the skill-building that prepares them for real life and future leadership roles, these young people contribute to economic development initiatives, while building democracy and social justice around the world.
Most Canadian NGOs work closely with partner organizations in developing countries. Sadly, like most of them, we cannot respond to all the pressing requests we receive from our 25 partners – simply due to a lack of project funding. This, despite the fact that it has been demonstrated that volunteerism can be more effective, bring more sustainable results, than standard technical assistance. And volunteerism is almost always less expensive.
We should all support youth volunteerism. We should salute and support youth leaders in all our communities. We need to believe in our young people, to acknowledge their potential to lead, and provide them with the help they need to shoulder those responsibilities.
Louis Moubarak is president and CEO (interim) for Canada World Youth.