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.


6 thoughts on “Dear future teens: I really wish we could have kept Katimavik for you

  1. 😦 I always wanted to do Katimavik but only found out about it when I was too old to take part. 😦 I’m glad you had such an amazing time which makes me even more bummed it’s getting cut.

  2. Awesome tribute to your experience. I participated in 1980 and I am very proud to say my son will be going July 2012. The programme changed me forever. No where else is there another experience that gives you half of what you get from Katimavik. Thank you for taking the time to post. Sincerely , Pam Cunnigham

  3. My son is in it now. I am so sad to hear that it’s been cut. More than sad. I have no word for this feeling of loss. He is growing there and learning so much about himself and how to be a man in the world. Such a valuable program, gives young people such hope. I was thinking that it should become mandatory, expanded to include every young person in this country. To know that the opposite is happening is beyond disappointing. I am ashamed today to have a government which has no respect for the youth who are the future of our society.

  4. I never actually experienced katimavik, but I will alwYs remember the emails we shared during your time in the program and how much the person I met just months before grew so quickly in such a short time. This is sad

    • Thanks, J.C. – It’s true. I matured a lot in that one year.
      I think it also made my previous friendships stronger, which was really rewarding.

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