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.


The Glorious Gap Year (or why you don’t have to go straight to University!)

The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

Don't get fenced in before you're ready!!

The whole world is a possibility. Don't get fenced in.

Your parents have just received your high school grad portraits and are already starry-eyed at the prospect of your becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a somebody.  As they admire how sharp you look holding a diploma, you say:

“Mom, Dad. I’m don’t want to go to university….”

But before you can say “yet” your parents are already freaking out. Speaking over their objections, you say you might want to work abroad, backpack, volunteer, or sail off into some distant horizon. Your parents hear that you want to run away, go broke, destroy your motivation or otherwise waste your time. I know my parents thought that way at first.

Before I explain how I managed to escape anyway, here’s a little background: Yesterday I woke up to sound of Andy Barrie’s soothing baritone on CBC radio one. Barrie was interviewing a grade 12 student named Ryan Cole who plans to spend his first year after high school trekking around Europe and Asia. Instead of enrolling in courses and purchasing books, Cole is checking flight itineraries and buying a sturdy backpack. You see, Cole is taking a gap year.

Yes, the great gap year! It’s concept that Brits, Aussies and Danes understand but, for some reason, one that Canucks still seem to struggle with. Although gap years can happen after any long pattern of work or study, the years closest to high school tend to make parents sensitive. Real sensitive. Personally, it took me a whole year to muster up the chutzpah to tell mine that I was, err, considering my options.

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