A Night of Innovation & Empowerment


An evening of live entertainment, delicious food, and a  diverse group of individuals all celebrating was definitely the  place to be on Wednesday, January 28th- SHIFT25 A  celebration of Youth Challenge International’s 25 years of  hard work in youth empowerment and innovation.

Held at Toronto’s Regent Park, I, along with over 200 other  guests, had the delight of glimpsing into YCI’s work and  initiatives as well as the launch of their new YCI program.

 Coming to a professional event such as this that is hosted by  an organization -who deals with very serious and large  issues in the community- you would think that it would be  one of those “formal attire” parties where the people are  there to discuss the issue at hand, take a sip of their drink, chuckle politely, and stand around rigidly for a couple of hours. I’m quite pleased to say that it was quite the opposite.

Upon entering the chic and modern building, I was cheerfully greeted by YCI staff who promptly signed both me and my entourage in before allowing us to disperse and explore our surroundings. Along with the warm welcoming, the dim lighting and the upbeat music playing softly in the background set the perfect type of relaxing atmosphere that everybody needed in order to enjoy the night’s activities and do some networking- a bit of professional mingling.

Accommodating for an incredibly vast network of guests attending from different professions, geographical locations, and cultural backgrounds is no easy task to take on, but I was surprised to see how effortlessly the staff at YCI were able to unite us all. From riveting African drumming performances to passionate spoken word poetry delivered from Regent Park’s local artists, guests were thoroughly engaged and even more entertained throughout the night. Whether it were an engineer, a businessman, a university professor, or a young high school student, there was always something exciting to look forward to that evening.

So if YCI was aiming to attract diversity of all kinds, then they’ve achieved that 110%.


Throughout the night, SHIFT25 held three interactive sessions led by influential activists and artists based on three core themes: connect, impact, and inspire. Each experience was an opportunity to both learn about different types of strategies as solutions to inspire youth to succeed, as well as -my favourite part of the night- network.

I explored all but the Connect Zone- which in the end turned out to be okay because of what I was able to gain from the other two overall. While participating in the Impact and Inspire Zones, which focused on youth entrepreneurship & employment as well as conversing through arts & culture, I was able to meet dozens of new people in a way I never have before.

Being a journalist, networking is both a great and an important aspect to doing what I do, and for the most part, SHIFT25 offered the best of all situations to be networking in; diverse individuals in a casual setting who wanted to come in to learn something.

I found it especially warming that the positive energy radiating from the YCI staff was so pertinent in all the guests as well. There was not one person I spoke to Wednesday night who wasn’t open-minded, sincere, and as passionate about what they wanted to pursue in their professions as everybody here was.

What started off as business introductions became excited conversations about plans and goals that everybody I talked to would gladly help me to achieve in the future. It was like talking to some close friends and making plans for the weekend- just some more influential plans.


An organization where “diversity and talent come together to shape a better future for youth around the world” according to YCI’s website, was definitely the kind of message that was sent across to everybody by the end of the evening. New networks -and great friends- were made, ideas and goals were discussed, and a ton of fun was to be had. Definitely a pleasure to experience such powerful initiatives, even if on a smaller scale.

In my opinion, I thought YCI’s ability to weave in all their core traits and values into the evening through such creative and exciting ways made it an even better success. Jordan Walker, the events and outreach assistant for SHIFT25, couldn’t agree more.

“It was a lot of work, but we wanted to make it exciting and different,” said Walker, “This is the first year of SHIFT25 because of its anniversary, and what started off as a simple ‘wine and cheese’ sort of thing became something so much bigger because of what we were planning for the future of YCI and what we wanted to convey to everybody who came.”

And they nailed it.

Whether it was to come and make some new business colleagues, watch some live entertainment, or just to make a new friend that night, YCI’s message was clear: bring people together, empower them, and push for positive change.

What I took away from this experience? New friends, new goals, new confidence and inspiration, and a new outlook on creative innovation; an empowered mindset and a drive for change, whether big or small.

“It all comes down to people” said YCI, and it truly is.

Meet the author, Julie Do:

Juile Do bio photo

A Ryerson journalism student who is excited and curious to learn about the things going on around her- both internationally and locally. Learning to explode out of her introverted shell with confidence and knowledge to share to the world, she spends her time exploring,  conquering challenges thrown at her, and creating valuable relationships in all her  interactions. Her passion lies in writing and filming about anything and everything- whether  it be to convey a message on a controversial issue or to make people laugh. Her goal in life:  to communicate and make a difference in people’s daily lives through various art forms.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door

Visit Julie’s Twitter page  Check out her new blog!

The Power of Team on Mount Kilimanjaro

On Friday, October 18 a team of six committed people completed the Youth Challenge International (YCI) Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks by reaching the summit at Uhuru Peak. The purpose of the climb was to raise funds and awareness for YCI’s international youth development programs during Canadian thanksgiving. YCI operates youth programs in four locations in Tanzania, some of which are very close to Kilimanjaro, which made the focus on the climb even more relevant. All six climbers reached the summit together to complete YCI’s inaugural Kilimanjaro charity climb with a 100% success rate.

Despite all my preparation and research, the climb exceeded any expectations and turned out to be an experience of a lifetime. African Scenic, an amazing company that relies on word of mouth, selected the Machame Route for YCI, which is known to be the most challenging route on the mountain and takes six days to complete. The route takes you through a variety of stunning flora and fauna as well as different types of trails. One of the coolest moments in the climb (besides Summiting) was climbing the Great Barranco Wall on the third day, which turned out to be the most technical part of the climb. 

The Team climbing the Barranco Wall

The team climbing the Barranco Wall

YCI brought together an eclectic mix of people for this climb that were either directly or indirectly linked to the organization. Passionate about YCI’s vision for the climb and full of energy, the team assembled from three continents and hit it off straight away. From Day 1, the team bonded, laughed, joked, and connected; most importantly, the team stuck together every step of the way, without exception. There was not a single moment when anyone was left behind, where anyone didn’t belong, where anyone didn’t contribute to the whole team. With five men over forty and one female under 25 known as ‘the kid’, you might expect some challenges, but there were none.

As soon as the team started the climb, it became clear that we were going to reach the summit together or not at all. On Day 1 of the climb, we connected with the amazing team of guides and staff from African Scenic and the team spirit continued to be contagious. The team of six, which only met one or two days before, soon became a team of 12 or more. I have never seen a team come together around a cause and overcome every physical and mental obstacle to achieve the goal. The power of the team led to the success of the YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks through sharing, giving, laughter and one common goal. 

Everyday, we started the day with our slogan “who’s got it better than us?  No one”.

There could have been nothing further from the truth.

The Power of the Team

“Who’s got it better than us? No one”.

Bryan Cox, Executive Director, YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks 2013

 If you missed out on the climb this year and would like to make a contribution to YCI’s life-changing youth development programs, you can donate here 






The Heroes of Kilimanjaro

This Thanksgiving, YCI embarked on a new adventure in Tanzania to climb 5,895m to the highest point in Africa – Mt. Kilimanjaro. The initiative raised awareness and funds for our life-changing youth development programs all over the world. 

On Thursday October 17th, 2013, YCI’s team of six climbers successfully reached Uhuru Peak, also known as “the roof of Africa”. This was not without enduring long day treks, below zero temperatures, and altitude sickness. The climb consisted of six days in total, hiking through forest, heather, moorland, and alpine desert zones. While the team was in good physical shape, the trek is exhausting and the environment is harsh. Camping for six days on a mountain in the cold and wind, with dust covering your entire body, can be tough. The hours of hiking on summit day seemed to never end, and when we finally reached Uhuru Peak we barely had enough energy to descend. 

YCI Team

The YCI Team

We are so proud of this tremendous accomplishment by the entire YCI team, as it is not easy to have a full team reach the summit. However, the climbers are not the true heroes of the mountain. It is the crew of guides, cooks, and porters that work tirelessly every second of every day to ensure that every climber is comfortable, happy, and healthy. Without this dedicated crew, our team never would have made it to the top.

Summit Crew - Ami, Samuel, Me, Robert and Eli

Summit Crew – Ami, Samuel, Amanda, Robert and Eli

Head Guide – Amanyisye (aka Ami). 30 years old, 100+ times up the mountain.
Ami is a truly inspiring leader and an incredible guide! He is experienced and so passionate about what he does, and extremely knowledgeable about Kilimanjaro. He was always emphasizing the importance of our health, to ensure that we made it safely and successfully to the top.

Head Guide Ami

Head Guide – Ami

Head Guide Ami and I

Head Guide Ami and Amanda

Assistant Guides – Eli, 29 years old and Emmanuel, 24 years old.
Our Assistant Guides were just as amazing, keeping us smiling with Kilimanjaro songs, jokes, and good conversation about the mountain.

Assistant Guides - Eli and Emmanuel

Assistant Guides – Eli and Emmanuel

The remainder of our crew consisted of one cook and 22 porters. The porters are responsible for carrying all of our bags and equipment (including their own), setting up the tents, collecting water, serving us hot beverages and food, and ensuring that all climbers are well taken care of. The entire crew are locals from around the surrounding area – Kilimanjaro, Moshi, and Arusha. The minimum age to be a porter is 18 years old. While the job of a porter is by far one of the most difficult jobs in the world, for these men (and seldom women), it is a good job that pays well for Tanzanian standards. For a 6-day trek, a porter makes approximately $120USD including tips.

Assistant Guide - Eli

Assistant Guide – Eli

The whole crew during Tipping Ceremony

The whole crew during Tipping Ceremony

While this is a good job for many locals, there are many hardships that they go through on the mountain. As tourists climb the mountain with their guides “pole pole” (very slowly) for acclimatization, porters speed past carrying their own packs plus up to 20kilos on their shoulders and heads. They get to camp first to set up the tents, prepare “washy washy” (warm water for washing), and start cooking. Porters wait to eat and have tea after the tourists, share a tent with about 7 – 10 people, and get no “washy washy”. The majority of the porters on the mountain don’t have proper hiking shoes, equipment, or clothing which adds to the risk of this job. To add to all this, being a porter for Kilimanjaro is a seasonal job as there are typically no climbers during the rainy season (January to June). They must save the little that they have, or find another job during the off season. An injury or health problem could harm the livelihood of a porter tremendously.

Our waiter Rafael bringing "washy washy"

Waiter Rafael bringing “washy washy”

On the positive side, there are porter associations in Tanzania working to ensure they are treated well, paid good wages and provided with proper clothing and equipment. It was important for us that the company we went through was a member of the porter association. As a global youth development organization that has programs preparing youth for the tourism industry in Tanzania, this experience reminded us of the valuable livelihood opportunities in the industry. Tourism is a very positive thing for the countries that YCI works in as a huge driver of the economy. Many youth are interested in working in the industry and we must continue to invest in them, providing them with the skills and opportunities to pursue their passion.

Thinking of climbing Mt. Kili? Remember to treat your crew very well. Respect them and show your appreciation. Tip accordingly. And leave behind any equipment and clothing that you can.

We could not be more grateful for the hard work and dedication of our crew. They were the reason we were able to achieve our goal and reach Uhuru Peak!

Our whole crew

The whole crew

– Amanda S. Armstrong, Volunteer Program Coordinator, YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks 2013

If you missed out on the climb this year and would like to make a contribution to YCI’s life-changing youth development programs, you can donate here

YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks

The entire team here at Youth Challenge International is very excited to announce our inaugural charity climb fundraiser event: The Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks.

This event will take place over Canadian Thanksgiving from October 12 – 19, 2013, and has been organized with the goal of raising $100,000 for YCI’s youth development programs.


We’re proud to offer the opportunity for up to 30 individuals to travel with us to The Republic of Tanzania where they will trek the 5,895m up Mt. Kilimanjaro to reach the summit, Uhuru Peak. As Africa’s highest mountain and the highest freestanding mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro offers a great challenge for climbers and a unique opportunity for YCI to raise awareness about our youth development programs.

YCI believes that young people have a central role to play in their development and directly engages youth in creating solutions to the challenges they face. Currently, we have youth development projects in four different locations throughout Tanzania, and we continually recruit talented Canadian and international youth volunteers to collaborate in partnership with the local youth in these locations to achieve innovation and development results. Last year, our volunteers reached over 5,600 youth in Tanzania, providing access to valuable resources and education to support improved access to livelihoods, health, and leadership opportunities.

Bryan Cox, YCI’s Executive Director, is excited to offer any individuals with a passion for adventure and philanthropy the opportunity to participate in this remarkable event. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will help change young peoples lives. “After working with young people for the past five years I have found that young people want one thing; the opportunity and the tools to succeed, not a handout”.  Bryan said “I am looking forward to leading this challenge with committed people from across our global community”.

To find out more about the YCI Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks, visit http://bit.ly/YCIkili or contact Robin Way at specialprojects@yci.org. Or join our Kilimanjaro Climb event page on Facebook!