Alumni Update: Alison McQueen

I had the privilege of volunteering overseas with Youth Challenge International in Kenya in 2007, and again in 2010 in Ghana. I was initially drawn to YCI due to their mission and values as an organization, the local youth-driven projects they were involved in,  their focus on charitable fundraising and their support from CIDA.

As a young person not long out of university and with only a small amount of professional job experience, my first overseas volunteer project to Kenya in 2007 provided me with an opportunity to gain international work experience, to utilize my university background in health sciences, to increase my cross cultural knowledge, and to improve my people skills.

Shortly after I returned to Canada from Kenya, I began employment as a Human Resources coordinator in a company of 120 employees. I can confidently say that my project in Kenya equipped me with skills that I used on a daily basis in a professional work environment, including project management and financial management skills. Perhaps most importantly, I further developed my ability to be sensitive to the cultural differences amongst a diverse group of employees.

In late 2009, I decided that I wanted to combine my undergraduate degree in health sciences with my love of working with people and decided to pursue a career in nursing.  Shortly after, I found out about YCI’s Youth Innovators January 2010 project in Ghana, which focused on advanced HIV/AIDS education for Ghanaian teachers. I applied and was thrilled to be chosen as one of five Canadian representatives on this special project.

I again had the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture, work with other fantastic Canadian and international youth, and to develop myself both personally and professionally. My experience in Ghana also further solidified my decision to become a nurse, and I will begin my Bachelor of Science in Nursing at McMaster University this September. I hope to participate in an overseas nursing placement before graduation, as my experiences with YCI have given me the confidence and skills to work anywhere in the world.

I am continually impressed by the opportunities and support that YCI provides to youth. My experiences volunteering with YCI have been fundamental in my personal and career development and have made me a more active and engaged citizen. I would highly recommend  YCI, which allows youth to have opportunities for personal and professional growth, while also supporting important youth-focused international development projects around the world.

-Alison McQueen, YCI Youth Ambassador, Kenya 2007 & Youth Innovator, Ghana 2010

Want to learn what other YCI alumni are up to? Check out our blog’s Alumni Update category.

YCI Launches Online Gift Catalogue

Just in time for Mother’s Day (or, if you’re reading this now, Father’s Day), YCI launched our online gift catalogue.

Gift-givers have the opportunity to provide HIV/AIDS testing to youth in Tanzania, Ghana or Kenya; support a young Kenyan in taking a vocational training course; or to provide a desktop computer to a Tanzanian non-profit.

If you would like to purchase a gift, please visit our online fundraising site. (All Canadian donors will automatically be issued a tax receipt.)

Featured Volunteer Blog: My Life in Mombasa

Ever wondered what it’s like to prepare for a YCI project? Then Ellie’s blog, My Life in Mombasa, is a must-read. In addition to fundraising tips, Ellie also shares advice that she’s received from Kenya alumni and YCI staff, including key tip from Tanja Zivanovic (Kenya 2007 & Ethiopia CIDA intern 2008): “One thing I can recommend is not to have any specific expectations.”

Ellie will be headed to Kenya for 10 weeks in May.

“Man, it is not easy preparing for a trip like this. The staff at Youth Challenge International has been so supportive throughout this process. While it was very difficult to find an international program that really appealed to me, my experience with the CIDA sponsored organization has been absolutely amazing. . . If you have just been selected to work with YCI, I am sure you will have a great time as well. Last month was quite busy for me. On top of the various exams, papers and club activities that I need to complete, I had to squeeze in some time to get all of my vaccinations and pre-trip preparations finished. . .

Featured Volunteer Blog: Mike in Kenya

With their project at the midway point, now is a great time to feature this blog from Mike, who is a member of YCI’s Youth Ambassadors team that is currently in Kenya. Mike’s group has one more month left in Mombasa.

“Money can be transferred via cell phones but there is rarely a night without power outages. It seems that everywhere, the traditional and the modern are forever thrusting themselves into my visage, relentlessly making me marvel at the pace of progress and the unyielding nature of the past. . .

Worthwhile Travel

Sitting in the shade looking out to the ocean and drinking Italian coffee makes any work-related complaints seem insignificant. Such is the benefit of having programs in Zanzibar, Tanzania and a definite perk of my role as International Programs Director. Although few will believe it–especially in the YCI office–my time in Zanzibar has been full, with meetings and program visits. And, as the second last stop on a three-week, four-country tour that has already included Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, I’m starting to feel the effects of hotels, airports and taxis. Seven flights so far–all on time and with my bag–with three to go.

I’ve had the chance to see groups of volunteers in action in each of our African countries; speak with both our existing partners and form a new partnership in Kampala, Uganda; meet with stakeholders and the youth we work alongside in each country I’ve visited; speak on a Mombasa radio show and; watch as a group of YCI volunteers presented the outcomes of their programming at the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana. Today, I watched as YCI volunteers taught beginner and intermediate computer classes to local youth, some of whom were using computers for the first time.

It’s been an eventful trip and the chance to speak with YCI staff, partners and youth in East and West Africa is incredibly helpful when it comes to program and project design and oversight from Toronto–it’s too easy to forget the realities and challenges of working in the field from the comfort of the Toronto office. And for me personally, the chance to visit programs and be in the field is was what drew me to relief/development work in the first place.

I’ve been especially impressed with the creativity of YCI and partner staff and their ability to design relevant youth programs and integrate YCI volunteers and local youth in ways that provide a tangible impact at the community level. I’ve also been impressed by our volunteers and their willingness to learn from local youth; share their own skills and experiences; work and support each other as a team; help with programming and work; and learn in environments that are new and occasionally out of their comfort zone.

I’m not a big fan of “Africa” references, as the differences–even at the local level–are huge and comparisons across the continent are so general they’re often meaningless. I’ve been living and visiting different parts of this continent for almost five years now and apart from the constant learning there’s few real similarities across the countries I’ve lived and visited. Wireless connections, BlackBerry coverage and watching the Olympics on TV shows just how far technological advances have outpaced the solutions to economic, health and other social issues.

The young people I’ve spoken to also have concerns that cut across national and regional boundaries; concerns about finding jobs to support their families, a desire to further their education, disappointment at many of their leaders, concerns about their health and what their future will look like to name a few. Young people we work with also continue to find creative solutions to the challenges they face, work multiple jobs to provide for their families, work closely with YCI volunteers to share their own community knowledge and volunteer their time with YCI and our partners. And, at a very grassroots level, YCI and our volunteers are working to address a number of issues alongside youth and the partners we support. A small piece of a much larger puzzle.

That, and the view from the coffee shop in Zanzibar, makes the travel more than worthwhile.

-Steve Cumming, International Programs Director

Let’s Edutain!

This past week, Lauren and I had the pleasure of attending Queen’s International Development Week activities. Our presentation focused on “edutainment” campaigns that convey health-related messages, including within a YCI programming context.

For YCI, edutainment takes on a range of different forms to convey messages. In Ghana, we’ve used media campaigns, such as radio jingles, to encourage youth to vote and participant in local governance.  In Kenya and Tanzania, YCI volunteers and partners have used methods of music, dance, drama and talent shows to focus on issues of sexual reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and substance abuse.

Sarah, YCI's former Administrative Assistant and current Queen's student, puts up posters for the presentation

Working with the Queen’s  workshop participants, we identified some of the strengths and weaknesses of edutainment as a programming methodology. We also worked with them to develop their own health-related edutainment campaigns.

Lauren working on the presentation

Even though edutainment is method commonly used to convey messages of health sexuality and health and hygiene, many workshop participants were surprised to realize just how common edutainment campaigns are.

Still confused by what “edutainment” is exactly? Check out some of our favourite YouTube videos to get a better idea of what edutainment looks like in a northern context:

Strength: Edutainment has the ability to modify key messages for different audiences.

Weakness: It may not hit its target audience.

Strength: It’s entertaining and appealing to a youth demographic.

Weakness: Its message is fleeting and could become lost in a media-saturated environment.

Strength: This video is just hilarious.

Weakness: Okay, so this last one isn’t really and edutainment campaign, but it does identify a key weakness of real campaigns: they can over-simplifying messages or make them too complex.

Thank you to Queen’s University for hosting us and I hope everyone had a healthful International Development Week!

-Jessica Lockhart, Program Coordinator