ACTup for Change

On Friday, June 18, I attended the “ACTup Conference” at Louise Arbour Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario, on behalf of YCI. The conference was hosted by Humberview Secondary School’s “Canadian and World Issues” class, taught by Andrew Cresswell.  As the head of Humberview’s Social Science Department, Cresswell has been seeking more effective ways to educate and reach his students.

Jordan & Andrew at the ACTup Conference

Running since 2008, Cresswell helped his grade 12 students set up a conference that would “use forms of art and media to educate and inform peers about social, cultural, and economic issues.” The ACTup Conference targets middle school students and is composed of a series of workshops that the students can freely attend.  The workshops use art forms such as drama, music, visual arts, and spoken word to allow students to communicate with each other about how to make positive changes in the world.

The 2010 ACTup Conference had over 100 middle school attendees. It began with keynote speaker and musician, Prita Chhabra, singing some original songs and speaking to the students about her trip to Africa for HIV/AIDS research. Shortly after, the students dispersed to their selected workshops where they participated in pre-arranged activities by Cresswell’s students. After a short lunch break, the students visited a variety of booths at the trade show, including NGOs such as YCI, CANFAR, Free the Children and the PWNE (Peel Works Needle Exchange). Following the trade show, the students then attended a new workshop that differed from the one they chose in the morning. When 90 minutes elapsed, they returned to the auditorium for the closing remarks by performer Douglas John Cameron.

Andrew Cresswell and his students, organizers of the ACTup Conference

This year, I was educating the ACTup attendees about YCI and their incredible programs. However, I had the chance to facilitate the conference in 2009, and it is amazing how much these students can learn from one another in an afternoon. ACTup truly allows for a form of teaching that is regrettably overlooked by educators. The conference is run completely by high school students who are very passionate about helping their younger peers feel like they can make a difference in the world. I believe that if more students had the chance to attend an ACTup Conference, future youth would have a much greater awareness of global issues.

-Jordan Metcalfe is the team leader for the Queen’s University Volunteer Action Network (QVAN) team in Kingston, as well as a member of the Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC).

Hungry for Change

About a month ago, a representative from the York Region Food Network spoke to a youth group that I’m involved in coordinating. She spoke about hunger and poverty issues in York Region. The group was asked whether or not they believed that there were people “in need” or “hungry” in our community. Only four out of the 30 individuals present agreed that there were people in need and that the determining cause for hunger in York Region is poverty. When asked why people were poor, the youth could provide only the following response: “Because they don’t work.” However, they could not answer the subsequent question on why those in poverty don’t work.

Could I expect high school students from a moderately affluent community in Southern Ontario to be aware of the social complexities of hunger issues in our region? No, I couldn’t. Did I expect them to jump out of their seats in outrage and initiate their own grassroots hunger awareness campaigns after being informed that 13% of people in York Region lived on low incomes, and that over 54,000 people accessed food from York Region food banks in 2009? Certainly not. The primary goal I was hoping to achieve was to have the youth to gain insight into a humanitarian issue that they didn’t believe affected them.

Locally, it is our marginalized populations that access food banks and live in hunger. It is the newcomers, those who come from dysfunctional families, those living with physical, mental, developmental or learning disabilities, the unemployed or the underemployed. Similarly from the global perspective, it is the marginalized populations, the ones that cannot compete in the international markets, or those who are in a state of conflict—those are the ones who continue to perpetuate in a state of hunger.

It’s easy to conclude that a high school dropout chooses to dropout of school and therefore ends up in his or her own situation. The same conclusion is often made about newcomers to Canada, who chose to move to a foreign country, despite language and culture barriers. It is far more difficult to challenge one’s mind to believe that it may not be a choice. There are a number of complicated factors that contribute to each individual’s circumstance.

Are we obligated to accommodate these marginalized populations? No, I don’t believe it is the obligation that should motivate us to help others. Personally, I feel privileged to be in a position where I believe that I can make a difference. I believe that by providing support, we are opening up our world to a vast potential of development and ingenuity. I have made the choice to take action against poverty, starting with food distribution. When people are well fed, they are happier, healthier, more productive, and are capable of learning more. This is the first step to development.

Heather (left), VAN Hunger Awareness team leader, with Latoya (right), a member of her team. Heather's team hosted a Hunger Awareness event in February 2010.

Taking action doesn’t necessarily need to involve a large-scale fundraising or awareness campaign—it can simply start with spreading the message by word of mouth. For example, when a client of mine—a single parent—told me that money was tight and that she did not know how to properly nourish herself and her young child, I gave her a list of recipes and websites on healthy eating on a budget and a library card to access more nutrition books. The gratitude I got from her the next week gave me a smile I wore the whole day, although the task itself was so simple.

The question directed globally is how to nourish a community of people who rely on select seasonal produce items, have limited access to livestock, who have no access to grocery stores, libraries, or the Internet? It takes one step at a time from dedicated advocates and volunteers. It starts with wanting to help and acknowledging the fact that we can make a difference.

If you are not sure what to do for the Hunger Awareness Day, I say get informed! The 30 youth who participated in the York Region Food Network event are now aware of hunger issues in their community. For them, it was a small step towards creating a better future—that same group has been actively fundraising for a humanitarian cause ever since.

Heather Pedersen volunteered with YCI in Ghana in the Fall of 2008. She is currently the team leader for the Volunteer Action Network‘s Hunger Awareness team, as well as a member of YCI’s Volunteer Advisory Council. She currently works for the YMCA.

To learn more about Hunger Awareness Day, check out:

Running for HIV/AIDS Awareness

On May 29th, YCI’s Ottawa Volunteer Action Network (VAN) team will be participating in the Ottawa Race Weekend. Members of the VAN team will be running in the five and 10K races in order to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to raise funds for the YCI’s oversea projects and initiatives.

The Ottawa Race weekend is one of the biggest and oldest race weekends in Canada and it takes place in the downtown core of the city. In 2009, over 36,694 people registered for races, and this year the YCI team will be joining in on the action. They will be sporting their Volunteer Action shirts, so look for red at the finish line!

On the same day, the team will be participating in the Great Glebe Garage Sale, in one of Ottawa’s most popular neighbourhoods. All proceeds will be in support of YCI. Any donations in support of their efforts and YCI initiatives are greatly appreciated.

If you would like to make an online donation to support the Ottawa VAN team and YCI, please visit the Ottawa VAN team’s fundraising site.

-Hilary Smith, Ottawa VAN Team Leader

Internship Blog: Marika in Peru

Marika Escaravage first became involved with YCI in 2007 when she volunteer in Costa Rica. For the past couple of years, she also been an active member of YCI’s Volunteer Action Network team in Ottawa. Acting as team leader, she led a team focused on HIV/AIDS.

This January, she left for Peru to complete an internship with, Acción Por los Niños (APN), a children’s rights organization in Lima. You can read more about Marika’s experiences in Peru here.

“APN is addressing these issues. More specifically, they have campaigns against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and against human trafficking. These are causes that are close to my heart and which have played a big part in me adding law school to my life plan. It may seem like disturbing issues and injustices to be working on, but it would be far more disturbing to know about what’s going on and stay idle. I suppose this kind of mentality is what has guided me towards a career in international development in the first place. . .”

HIV/AIDS VAN Team Commemorates World AIDS Day

It was a sea of red on December 1, 2009! YCI’s HIV/AIDS Volunteer Action Network team collaborated with other organizations within Ottawa for a World AIDS Day red theme party at 1848, a University of Ottawa campus bar.

At this event, there were opportunities to engage youth about the issues concerning those who are affected by HIV/AIDS in Canada and overseas, and to win great prizes. The World AIDS Day party took place on one of the bar’s busiest nights, and was a collective effort between six organizations, which made for a large turnout.

Our team of volunteers looked for small prizes from local businesses (~$10 and up) for a fundraising game that was run at the event called “Pop the Stereotype.” In this attention grabbing game, our volunteers circulated the pub with red balloons. On each of the balloons was a myth or stereotype about HIV/AIDS. This created an opportunity for youth to get engaged and learn about the issues related to HIV/AIDS in Canada and internationally, as well as win a prize ranging from local artwork to restaurant and store gift certificates. Attendees at the red party were invited to “Pop the Stereotype” for $10, all of which will go towards YCI’s work of engaging youth in their own development and in the development of their communities.

We would like thank the following sponsors for their generous donations: Cafe Alt, Kundstad Sports, East Side Mario’s, The Body Shop, Parma Ravioli, Sugar Mountain, and artist Melanie Lapointe. Because of our sponsors’ support, our team of volunteers were able to raise over $190.  “Pop the Stereotype” was a huge success. We would also like to thank the other organizations that we collaborated with to make this event possible: Faculty of Medicine’s Global Health Interest Group, Dignitas Youth, Keep a Child Alive, Health Promotion and International Health Program as well as University of Ottawa’s campus pub, 1848.

On behalf of Youth Challenge International’s HIV/AIDS Volunteer Action Network team, THANK YOU.

-Hilary Smith, Co-Leader for HIV/AIDS VAN Team

World AIDS Day 2009

Like many NGOs, governments, communities and individuals around the world YCI is marking World Aids Day on December 1st.

New figures released by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS estimate the number of new HIV infections have declined each year by about 17% from 2001 to 2008, which is an achievement to celebrate (

Yet, of every five people infected, only two start treatment and more than two million AIDS related deaths were reported globally in 2008, with two million children under the age of 15 now living with HIV (

In the countries YCI works HIV/AIDS rates are particularly high amongst youth and especially female youth. Lack of sex education, poor access to health services, limited employment opportunities and gender inequality are some of a number of factors that make young people vulnerable.

YCI’s HIV/AIDS programming is focused on mobilizing and sensitizing youth, providing education, distributing condoms, producing multi-media initiatives and working directly with high-risk groups, such as sex trade workers.

YCI partners, staff and volunteers have been active in working with young people and we’ve been part of some dynamic partnerships not only with our existing partners but new organizations as well including PSI and Action Aid in Mombasa, Kenya.

A 17% annual reduction rate over the past seven years is something to celebrate and a positive example of the ability of governments, civil society, individuals and NGOs to effect positive change on a global level. As we recognize World Aids Day there’s more work to do and YCI is committed to its partners and the youth we work with to continue this important work.

Lastly, as the passage below illustrates, we’re also engaging young people in Canada. The Volunteer Action Network (VAN) is an opportunity for YCI alumni and Canadian volunteers to become involved in development issues in both a local and international context. Marika Escaravage, a YCI alumni and now a VAN team leader, has continued her engagement with YCI by organizing an outreach and education program to mark World Aids Day.

-Steve Cumming, International Programs Director

YCI volunteers at Ushujaa in Tanzania

Our team is bubbling with excitement over here in Ottawa, as we prepare for World AIDS Day on December 1st. We’ve been collaborating with 5 other organizations to plan a Red Theme Party. Too often the focus is placed on needs and shortcomings, but the Red Party gives us a chance to celebrate the advances that have been made and the passion and energy of people throughout the world who are actively fighting this pandemic!  The organizations present will be able to provide information on what more can be done. For our part, we’ll be running a game called “Pop the stereotype” which will have participants debunking myths about HIV/AIDS and HIV positive people, while winning prizes donated by local sponsors! An extra little perk is that there will be drinks at reduced price.  All we ask in return is for everyone to wear red and bring an open mind.

What: Red Party

Date: Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Time: 7pm until bar closing

Location: 1848 (bar) in the University of Ottawa, Jock Turcott University Center

Come out! Wear RED!

-Marika Escaravage, VAN Team Leader, Ottawa

VAN Leader Profile: Pamy Teja

Being a part of the Volunteer Action Network (VAN) has allowed me to develop leadership, professional and networking skills. Before becoming involved with Youth Challenge International, I had the drive and passion for international development but had no experience.

YCI has given me the support and resources to build these skills. After my time overseas in Ghana, I came back to my own community and have started to use the training I got with YCI and translate it in to action here in Vancouver. I have met with many organizations, attended many forums to gain more knowledge about global issues and recruited an extraordinary VAN team that has the same drive as I do.

With YCI’s support, my team and I were able to hold a fundraising event in partnership with a few other organizations. This event alone allowed me to build skills that I may not have otherwise had the opportunity to at this point. I learned to collaborate with other social change organizations, deal with media, communicate effectively (when raising money you have to be clear on where the donor’s money is going and why they should donate), getting sponsorships, planning and coordinating an event, marketing and leading a team.

The VAN network has given me the confidence and skills to pass on my experience I had overseas with YCI. I am proud and excited to be a part of this program.

-Pamy Teja was a volunteer in the fall of 2008 in Ghana. She played an active role in World Aids Day, as well as organizing a campaign to encourage Ghanaian youth to vote. She is currently the Youth & Poverty VAN Action team leader based out of Vancouver. Her team recently raised over $7000 for local and global organizations that focus on youth and poverty.