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This weekend YCI’s Volunteer Advisory Council met in Toronto for the first ever VAC Retreat.  It was an exciting two days packed with training and project planning.  Folks came in from as far away as Victoria and as close as St. Clair and Bathurst!  As a refresher for those who might not be aware of what the Volunteer Advisory Council is or how it functions within YCI here is a brief description:

Youth Challenge International’s Volunteer Advisory Council is the leadership body for our active, national Volunteer Action Network.  Our Volunteer Advisory Council members are youth leaders inspiring and encouraging others to Make a World of Difference through the development of innovative community initiatives that focus on pressing global issues.

The two main goals of YCI’s Volunteer Advisory Council are:

To encourage grassroots initiatives in Canada that generate awareness, solutions and action on pressing global issues – through the leadership of action teams in the Volunteer Action Network; and to support and inform YCI’s activities through interaction with the Board of Directors.  (The Chair of the Volunteer Advisory Council sits on YCI’s Board of Directors.)

YCI’s Volunteer Action Network facilitates youth-identified grassroots projects aimed at developing creative ideas and policy solutions to pressing global and local issues and provides a supportive platform from which to nourish those ideas into action!  Each team is made up of 5 to 8 volunteers working on a specific goal or objective over the course of a year.  Ultimately, the aim is to develop a greater understanding about global development issues, but also to produce a distinct contribution through action and an output.

Stay tuned for some of the awesome initiatives coming out of this year’s super talented council!


Erin, Canadian Programs Director

To learn more about the Volunteer Advisory Council, go to

If you’d like to see what our Volunteer Action Network is currently working on, or for how you can get involved, check out




After five weeks in the position of Executive Director with Youth Challenge International, I have been so impressed by the achievements of the YCI staff, volunteers, alumni, and board who are all deeply committed to youth development.  YCI has grown and developed over the past 18 years by being flexible, focused, and innovative, and I am excited to join YCI at a really dynamic time in the organizations growth.  

There is no better time to see such commitment at work with so many challenges facing youth today.  I have had the opportunity to work in more than 20 countries over the past 12 years, and have witnessed first-hand how poverty, conflict, displacement, and political oppression can negatively impact the lives of youth. YCI is playing a vital role in helping youth realize their full potential and become engaged as active citizens in economic and social development.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet my first group of Canadian volunteers during their pre-departure training at the YCI head quarters in Toronto. Four young Canadians were heading to Costa Rica for six weeks to collaborate with youth in rural communities.  It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm of this team and get a better understanding of what attracts young Canadians to YCI.   In addition to the adventure and travel, which is exciting to anyone who is about to depart on an overseas assignment, each team member expressed an underlying desire to effect change and make a difference in the world.   The YCI volunteer experience will change your life, will broaden your horizons, and will lead to lasting change.

At the same time YCI is growing its focus on International Youth Development with programs in HIV/AIDS education, active citizenship, gender equality, and youth employability, working in partnership with thousands of youth in Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and South Pacific.  The importance of this work cannot be underestimated and there is so much more to do!  Knowledge is power, and YCI is equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to affect positive change their lives.

A word to our supporters. Thank you for all your support. Thank you for being committed to youth development and for trying to make a difference in the world. If you thinking about volunteering don’t delay—sign up and make a difference.  If you are an alumni thinking about how to re-engage and continue to effect change, contact us and we can connect you to our national youth network.  If you want to donate, your contributions will change the lives of young people in ways you did not think were possible.     

-Bryan Cox, Executive Director

For 10 weeks, I rolled out of bed at 6:30 A.M in order to catch the train that took me into downtown Toronto. I would get off the Spadina streetcar and walk over to 20 Maud Street. On most days, I would be the first one to arrive at YCI’s office. I would prepare for the coming day by looking over my To Do List. Now that school has started, I almost miss the 6:30 AM alarm clock.

To put it simply: my time at YCI was fantastic! When I first started the internship, I didn’t realize how much I was going to learn about not only the organization and international development, but also about myself. YCI is just so… real! The people, the mission, and the values are aligned with everything that I think makes an excellent international development agency. As nerdy as this may sound, I loved learning about the history of YCI; it’s really impressive that the organization evolved so much over the past twenty years and has partnered with a variety of grassroots organizations.  As an International Development student, I loved seeing the things I’ve been learning in school put into practice. Due to my YCI internship, this was the summer I put things into perspective. I now know that I want to whole-heartily pursue a career in international development and hopefully work in the non-profit sector.

In early July, YCI alums were invited to attend a reception at La Citadelle hosted by the Governor General in honour of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. Although I was never an YCI overseas volunteer, I asked Erin if I could go. Lucky for me, she said yes! So three YCI alums and I drove to Quebec City to attend the reception, and it was just beautiful! There was great live music and performances, good food, and the backdrop was the Saint Lawrence River.

Although my internship at YCI has ended, I’m happy to say that I’m still involved. I’m the Campus Connector for McGill University, and I’m hoping to become a volunteer next summer. And of course, I will one day become an YCI alum!


-Ahila Poologaindran, Summer Intern

Here I am at the World Youth Congress, where over 550 youth from over 125 nations are gathered.

Let me start by saying how immensely proud I am of our country- Canada. It can be said that all nations have issues–except maybe the Scandinavians (it’s pretty sweet to live there). The question is how a country, made up of its citizens, chooses to deal with those issues. Through my travels, I’ve been fortunate to root my national pride in many examples of how this country rocks and represents my ideals in so many ways. I’d like to speak to one example I experienced last night using the Canadian arts scene as the backdrop.

Last night, I was standing in the middle of the crowd for the Governor General’s youth dialogue. Here we have a head of state who is a refugee, of african descent, a woman and a journalist, spending time with the youth of the country in a meaningful dialogue. We were also fortunate to have the presence of major icons within the Canadian music industry. It is my opinion that the current emblems of youth culture, mainly derived from US influences, are individuals who contradict many of our aspirations towards a better society. These artists promote violence, gender disempowerment, materialism and really lack substance in their art forms. However, this was not the case last night–I’m sitting in a crowd where 4 major Canadian icons exist. The evening began with the insightful lyrics of east coast hip-hop artist Jordan Croucher. The evening continued to feature artist Samian, who spoke of the power of language, integrating his native Algonquin language with French rap.

Following the discussion, we were treated to an incredible concert by K’Naan and Jully Black. Again, I’d like to look at these two emblems of proof that Canadians not only seek substantive and talented art emblems, but also find them in individuals who represent all that Canada has to offer. The first performer was K’naan. There are a few moments in my life where I’m sitting in a concert and the music profoundly moves me–this was one of those moments.  K’naan, a refugee from Somalia, is truly a Dusty Foot Philosopher. A Dusty Foot Philosopher is someone who speaks truth and wisdom which is grounded in time immemorial.  His story and integrity are a tribute to Canadian culture and multicultural vision.

Jully Black wrapped up the concert and really began the idea for this cultural comparison/Canada Ra Ra session. While most female musicians (a la Pussy Cat Dolls) speak towards the only female empowerment mechanism being that of sexual depravity, I found it interesting to see Jully Black belt out, “I’m a girl, I’m a lady, I’m a woman, I’m a queen, I’m everything I can dream.”

Although this somewhat narrow look at the Canadian music scene seems simplistic and trivial, I think it speaks to overall success of Canada who has nurtured these artist- with many more needing spotlight. Moreover, I think it represents a major front of youth culture and an inhibitor to building ourselves as global citizens.

For a further comparison of Jully Black and Pussy Cat Dolls check out the lyrics here:


-Danny Richmond

It is incredibly overwhelming to think of all the damage done by the complexity and vast reach of AIDS. It is hard to find a person left in this world, even unknowingly or indirectly, who cannot be said to be affected by the virus. It has crippled countries, devastated lives and robbed people of their dignity, childhood and human rights. The XVII International AIDS conference is the symbol to represent the immensity of the human response to the virus. Politicians, scientists, social workers, doctors, women, sex workers, government/NGO reps, and youth gather for five days to try to network and better respond to the virus that has killed more than 25 million people. It is in this gathering, representing the millions responding courageously, that an individual can find hope.
Dr. Peter Piot (Exec. Director of UNAIDS) spoke at AIDS 2006 in Toronto and in Mexico City of the next 25 years of AIDS- recognizing that although we have come so far- we have a far way to go.

What can sustain us, especially youth, through this journey?

I believe the answer lies in 3 elements of this conference:

1) Knowledge- I began learning about AIDS in elementary school and have only yet learnt the tip of the iceberg. The AIDS conference involves over fourty concurrent sessions in any given hour following topics diverse as twelve floors of a university library. The more one learns- the more you know it is possible to overcome what lies ahead.

2) Dedication- In this conference, I am surrounded by thousands of delegates from around the world who dedicate every morsel of energy, every heartbeat and thought to ensuring that they face the challenges of AIDS whether it be the poverty grown by the affects of the virus, stigma generated by people’s indiffernce and ignorance, or the elusive nature of the virus itself.

3)Hope- In the opening ceremony, 12-year-old Keren Dunaway Gonzalez, who has been living with the virus spoke about her dreams and belief in her future. Ten years ago, I don’t believe it would have been fathomable for her to have these dreams or even be alive. Today, she spoke of the next 25 years as well–it was a speech of hope. Hope is not simply to be relegated to Hallmark cards and rhetoric of presidential hopefuls but a strong necessity if we are to face the future of this global pandemic with convictions.

HIV/AIDS is overwhelming to think of by the immensity of its damage however I find comfort in the immensity of the human response. 


YCI Represents in Mexico City. 

AIDS 2008 Delegate Blog, Danny Richmond

I could have never guessed on that October day in 1998 when I read a small ad looking for volunteers to go to Costa Rica that almost 10 years later I would be writing this blog post.

Over the years I have watched YCI go through numerous changes and have experienced profound personal changes through my involvement as a volunteer, member of the Toronto office staff, Group Leader and currently as a Board Member and Chair of the Volunteer Advisory Council. YCI now works in more countries, has focused its development work and has deepened its expertise.

However, the changes that I am most excited by are the new opportunities available to volunteers when they return from project to remain involved with YCI and engage in meaningful development work on a personal and a professional level. In 2006 YCI hired Erin Nesbitt to spearhead a new Public Engagement program which has resulted new opportunities for returned volunteers to maintain their involvement with YCI, either by mentoring preparing volunteers, raising money to support a “know your status” campaign in Tanzania or by joining the Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) as a member or by participating in a council project.

As I have been numerous times over the years I am completely overwhelmed by what the VAC has been able to accomplish in its inaugural year. We initiated 5 projects, which involved 75 youth. We hosted an event for International Youth Day in collaboration with other organizations such as War Child, Engineers Without Borders and Dignitas. And we have also been able to provide opportunities for several members to attend AIDS 2006, the World Bank Youth Open House in Washington, another World Bank conference in Cairo and currently developing a submission to have members attend AIDS 2008 in Mexico City….and that was just getting things started!

Our council members come from all walks of life – they are both students and professionals and everyone commits what they are able to…everything from writing campaign letters to organizing a national art competition for youth to express the quote “be the change you want to see”. To everyone who has either returned from project or is in the process of preparing to go I encourage you to contact the office to see how you can get involved….even if all you have are a few hours to spare. I look forward to reading about your experiences years from now!

Shauna is a Project Manager for DECODE, a strategic consulting & market research firm with an expertise in youth, young adults and young families. Shauna was also a participant in Costa Rica, Group Leader in Guyana and worked at YCI as the Youth Program Manager. Shauna currently sits as the Chair on the Volunteer Advisory Council and on the Board of Directors.

Back in the fall I participated in a panel discussion on apathy and youth engagement hosted by Rethos (  The organizers send list of questions to prepare with – I shared them with my colleagues at YCI and our Volunteer Advisory Council and with everyone’s input I put together the following notes on my favourite three…

How would you respond to these questions?

Are young people apathetic?

No – big generalization – we believe youth are certainly engaged but more often than not in areas, communities, issues etc. where they feel they can effect change. By casting youth as apathetic in the media – we allow decision makers to continue to ignore youth as a constituency – resulting in missing the real issue – that the opinions youth are often dismissed AND that they are taking action in their communities, schools etc.

What is the role of nonprofit organizations as a gateway for engagement?

We believe nonprofits play a very important role to play in providing youth a platform from which to become active and engaged citizens. However it is crucial for organizations to work with youth in meaningful projects where they can make a real difference and move beyond tokenism.

Best practices for nonprofits to engage youth include:

-       Youth led decision-making structures and leadership within organizations serving youth population.

-       Youth need to play a central role in program development, implementation and evaluation.

YCI’s Volunteer Action Network sees youth leading their own projects with leadership from the Volunteer Advisory Council – a youth driven body with representation on the Board of Directors.

What is the role of the internet and media for engagement?

The internet and other media are excellent tools to disseminate information –awareness campaigns, tools, resources, contact information etc. Engagement should: enable the sharing of visions and values, discussion of the common good, the definition of collective goals and the development of skills and strategies required to reach them. Question is – how to move from online communication to offline action?

Interested in getting involved?  Get in touch!

Celebrate International Youth Day 2007 – Make a world of difference.

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day is “Be seen, be heard: Youth Participation for Development.” Please join Youth Challenge International’s Volunteer Action Network in celebrating International Youth Day, on August 19th, 2007, from 12 pm – 4:30 pm at The Brunswick Theatre.

Highlights of the day include:  an Art Exhibit, NGO Fair, Photos for Sale, and two Movie Screenings. We will be showing “Rocked: Sum 41 in Congo” (by War Child Canada) at 1:30 pm, and “Go Further” at 2:15 pm.

Address:  296 Brunswick Avenue, Second Floor (Bloor/Bathurst), Toronto ON

For more information, please contact Erin Nesbitt:

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