Dear future teens: I really wish we could have kept Katimavik for you

My rural, urban, liberal, conservative, radical, loud, quiet, atheist, Christian, anglophone, francophone, gay, straight, Canadian-born, immigrant, anarchist, rule-abiding, jock, feminist, AWESOME Katimavik group.

Today one of Canada’s oldest and largest youth volunteer programs, Katimavik, was officially axed by the Federal government.

This program changed my life, but I absolutely dread the day I have to tell my kids about it.

First of all, I don’t think they’ll believe me. They’ll say it sounds too good to be true, and I will agree.

I mean  . . . how did I, as a penniless, directionless 18-year-old, simply get up one day and travel across this vast and beautiful country to: do good work, meet interesting people, learn important life-affirming lessons, find my passion and confidence, build vital friendships, and take control of my own coming-of-age story?

How could I have possibly learned to cook, build, budget, shovel, drill, bake, ride a horse, fundraise, feed pigs, snowshoe, keep house, speak French, plant seeds, love difference, travel smart and persevere (among many, many other things) all in the span of nine months? Nine grueling yet magical months.

I guess I’ll have to explain that there was a time when Katimavik was deemed important enough to fund through Federal monies — and, luckily,  it was a priority for some very important people. (Senator Jacques Hebert,  for instance, did a 21-day hunger strike in the 1980s to protect this very program.)

Perhaps I’ll also point them to the things I wrote out of passion, and for posterity:

  1. What is Katimavik? Click Here
  2. My Reasons for Choosing Katimavik. Click Here
  3. Oh the places I would go: My three communities and beyond. Click Here
  4. My Katimavik Group: Randomly-selected brothers and sisters. Click here.
  5. But what did we do all day? My three wonderful work placements Click Here

And after all that they’ll likely believe me — but then I fear they will be angry. They’ll want to know what made me and my peers so goddamn special. They’ll wonder why this carefully-engineered investment in the nation’s youth was enjoyed by generations of Canadians — and then simply let go.

I’m not quite sure I’ll know what to say to them then.

This is what Katimavik said today:

“For the past 35 years, Katimavik has helped shape a civically responsible Canada by harnessing the power of our young volunteers to help those in need in communities across Canada. In that time, over 30 000 Canadian youth have made a difference in communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast. They participated in our program gaining valuable work, life and leadership skills all the while fostering community development and civic engagement . . . At a time when civic-engagement and voter turnout are at an all-time low, when youth unemployment rates are double the national average, this is clearly the worst time to cut Katimavik.”

In this case, I simply must throw up my hands and say my lived experience makes it impossible for me to stay neutral. I am going to have to say, without reservation, that it’s a shame this program won’t be around for our kids.

There’s no sense denying it: I am profoundly sad about this cut. And I don’t think we fully understand what we’re losing today.

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I admit, it’s cliched, but I have to include this song for my group members. We once wrote our own lyrics to it — in both official languages.
I know I had the time of my life.

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Toronto’s back alley art gallery

Visitors to the Art Gallery of Ontario were invited to exit the building on Saturday and follow two guides on a tour of Toronto’s brick walls and back alleys.

The AGO’s graffiti art walk, led by local artists Pascal Paquette and Sean Martindale, was a crash course on the commissioned and unauthorized works blanketing the city’s core.

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The graffiti art walk is part of the AGO’s ongoing Toronto Now Series, which spotlights the works of emerging and established local artists.

If you missed the walk, you can still check out  NOW: A Collaborative Project by Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette until April 1st. The indoor AGO exhibition incorporates elements of fine art, graphics, design and graffiti to spark conversation about what Toronto is — and could be.

The “tall tale” about a hero in my family that turns out to be true

Carlos Dardano (Facebook)

If your father told you that your one-eyed uncle landed a passenger aircraft after its two engines burned out in the middle of a merciless storm — without anyone getting killed — you’d totally think he was lying, right?

C’mon, tell me you would, because I feel like a pretty terrible daughter right now.

My dad (Italo Carletti Dardano) first told me about my *uncle Carlos Dardano when I was about 12 years old.

My dad saw a kid who was finally old enough to process an incredible story.
I saw a dad who thought I was still young enough to believe a tall tale.

(To be fair, my dad is kind of like the father in Big Fish: full of grandiose stories that push the boundaries of believability.)

The thing is, my dad was not lying. He wasn’t even exaggerating.

Two days ago, this episode of Mayday was uploaded on YouTube.

The episode confirms the following, based on official reports, interviews and eye witness accounts:

  • Carlos Dardano lost his left eye after being shot in the head by guerrillas during the civil war in El Salvador — but despite his impaired vision, he went on to become a certified commercial pilot.
  • On May 24, 1988, Carlos was flying a Boeing 737 for TACA airlines (TACA 110), which was on its way to New Orleans. The plane was carrying 38 passengers and several crew members.
  • During that flight, a violent thunderstorm killed power to both engines. Shortly after the pilots switched on the emergency backup generator, the engines overheated and there was a dual engine flameout.
  • To avoid a catastrophic fire, Carlos shut the engines off again and put the plane back into free fall, while realizing he wasn’t going to make it to the New Orleans airport. He ruled out the possibility of landing on a highway as the air traffic control tower had suggested (and likely killing people in cars and on board).
  • His co-pilot spotted a levee parallel to a canal, and Carlos began a risky maneuver meant for small planes called a sideslip. There was no way to slow the plane, but somehow Carlos avoided a high cement wall and a steep embankment — and made a bumpy but safe landing. No one on board was killed, or even badly injured.
  • “For the first time in history, a 737 without any engines has landed safely outside of an airport.”

Dardano planes (Facebook)

After watching the show, I promptly called my dad and apologized for being such a skeptical 12 year old, and also for forgetting about this incredible tale for so long.

I also looked up my cousin Charlie on Facebook (Carlos’ son who is around my age) and found out two more things: Charlie has some pretty awesome pictures of his dad and their flight school in El Salvador and, luckily, he doesn’t have very strong privacy settings.

I immediately wanted to message him, but I wasn’t quite sure where to start.

Perhaps with: Our grandfathers were brothers. My dad went to school with your dad in El Salvador. Your father’s tale of heroism was so awesome that I refused to believe it for years. (Or, hey, I borrowed some of your pictures for a blog post – is that cool?)

I think I’ll just send him this post and see what happens. I’m actually pretty nervous!

Until then, I urge you all to revisit the flights of fancy from your youth. They may be better grounded than you think.

—————-

*Note: my dad refers to Carlos as my uncle but, to be more precise, he’s my great grandfather’s brother’s son. I’ll attempt to draw this branch of the family tree after consulting with my grandma, Maria Isabel Dardano Gonzalez.

What would you like to ask CBC News?

I wrote this post for CBCNews.ca, and will be coordinating this project. You can view the original post here.


Have you ever wondered how journalists prepare for difficult interviews?
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We want to make it easier for you to ask questions and get answers from the CBC News team across Canada and around the world.

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