Taking Action, Every Day

October 24th was the International Day of Climate Action. Read on to learn about how YCI alumni and youth across Canada are taking action, every day:

Growing up in Alberta, the heart of the oil and gas industry in Canada, I have seen the resistance to cutting emissions first hand. Many equate cutting emissions with cutting their standard of living. I believe this to be a main cause of resistance. Perhaps this also has to do with the inability to associate personal decisions with global impact. This is why I joined the environmental sustainability team of YCI’s Volunteer Action Network (VAN).

While the effects of global warming on weather patterns, animals, water levels, and other earthly features need attention, my team chose to research the effects that global warming has had and will have on humans. We chose to direct our attention specifically on the Global South, as global warming’s effects will be most drastic in these regions. In Canada, we are perceived to live a developed country. As such, the amount of emissions created in our country is much greater than those created in developing nations.

The injustice and inequality that arises from this situation drives me to make change and call for action. In a world that is becoming more and more interconnected, it is increasingly evident that our actions affect others, countries away. We no longer live in a world where citizens are defined by boundaries, but one where global citizenship is coming to a forefront. Because of this, we have a responsibility to reduce the impact global warming has on developing nations. Reducing our emissions is just a start.

Joining YCI has helped me develop into a global citizen and realize how my actions in Canada can affect someone in Ghana. Consciously reducing my carbon footprint by making minor adjustments to my everyday life is not a choice if, even indirectly, it has a positive effect on developing countries. As citizens there is action we can take. Individually, we can take steps to reduce our carbon footprint. As a collective, we can take part in initiatives to pressure the government to take necessary steps to cut national emissions. Reducing emissions is not an individual choice–it is a necessity.

Sara Walde is a member of YCI’s Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) and leads the VAN environmental sustainability team. She first became engaged with YCI as a volunteer in Guyana in 2008. To learn more about how to join YCI’s Volunteer Action Network, contact Jessica at jessica.lockhart@yci.org or find out more here.


The League of the Traveling T-Shirts

Hey folks! It’s been a while since YCI has updated our blog. Half a year, in fact. But, it’s not what you think. It’s not because we haven’t had tons to write about–but rather because we’ve been so busy that we haven’t had time to write about it!

Between May and August, we sent 87 volunteers to work on projects in Guyana, Vanuatu, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Costa Rica and Guatemala. (In other words, to all of our project countries except for Nicaragua.) The result of their work over the summer months was impressive; volunteers worked on the Earth Charter in Costa Rica, built water tanks in Vanuatu and facilitated gender and active citizenship workshops in Kenya. (And that’s just a brief summary of the activities they completed overseas.)

We were busy, too. While our volunteers were working with our partner organizations globally to meet development goals, learn new skills and make connections with youth overseas, we were active in our Toronto office preparing for our fall and winter programs and producing a number of new communications tools.


Now that September has rolled around and school is back in high gear, YCI is too, with one of those new tools—t-shirts! I got my first opportunity to rock the new YCI look at Volunteer Action Council (VAC) retreat in September. The VAC is the body that administers and managers the Volunteer Action Network. It’s composed of team leaders, a guiding council and YCI staff members. For two days, VAN team leaders,  mentors,  YCI staff and  chair members gathered at the Centre for Social Innovation and the Youth Challenge International HQ to goal set, plan activities for the year and, for many of us, finally get the chance to meet one another face-to-face.

VAC Team Leaders

It was a great weekend and inspiring to see the work that our alumni and volunteers are doing across the country. It was also amazing to have conversations about different ways to make the local-global connection and how we can get the Canadian public involved. (Want to get involved with the VAN or learn more? Check out http://www.yci.org/html/inCanada/)


Next up, Nucci (YCI’s Program Development and Marketing Manager) and I both wore our new t-shirts at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Get Experience Fair. While it’s always refreshing to hear what our alumni are doing to put their global perspectives into action, it’s also a welcome change from my computer to get face time with prospective volunteers. (And of course, I always like the opportunity to talk about my own involvement with YCI from an alumnus perspective.)


So, where will you see the YCI t-shirts next? On the volunteers who are headed to Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya Costa Rica and Guyana in the next two months. Want to get your own YCI t-shirt? Consider volunteering. You can check out more information on our website at www.yci.org.

-Jessica Lockhart, Program Coordinator

YCI @ Toronto Timeraiser 2009

This past Saturday night, YCI representatives Jane and Jessica had the pleasure of attending the Toronto Timeraiser in the Distillery District.


Jane with the YCI setup!

Timeraiser is an event that has been described by its founder, Anil Patel, as “like speed dating for volunteers.” Volunteers have an hour to talk and meet with agency representative before selecting organization that fits their interests. Once they’ve selected their top agencies, they’re able to participate in a silent auction for art by local artists–but instead of bidding with money, volunteers bid with time, or the amount of hours that they will dedicate to volunteering in their community in the next year. 


Jessica gearing up to talk to volunteers at the YCI booth

While YCI offers a number of opportunities for prospective volunteers and returned alumni, including the Volunteer Action Network, the Volunteer Advisory Committee and our in-office volunteer program, we were present at the Timeraiser to highlight some  new volunteer opportunities! (Including the very exciting opportunity to get involved with planning our anniversary. Did you know that YCI has been sending volunteers overseas for more then 20 years?) Volunteers at the event came from a diverse range of backgrounds, but many were young professionals looking to get more involved in their community, and in some cases, looking for opportunities to apply their professional skills to help out organizations like YCI.


Jess chats up some prospective volunteers. (Credits to Timeraiser’s Flickr album for this photo.)

The event was a success. If the Timeraiser is, in fact, like speed dating, then Jane and Jess both met tons of prospective volunteers that would be solid second-date material.


The crowd at the 2009 Toronto Timeraiser.

By the end of the night, more than 10,000 volunteer hours had been raised for Toronto organizations. A big thank you goes out to the Framework Foundation for having us. We’re excited to welcome new volunteers into our office–regardless of whether they’re seasoned pros, or first-time volunteers.

For more information about how you can get involved and volunteer with YCI in Toronto, or in your home community, check out our website or email us at generalinfo@yci.org.

To learn more about Timeraisers in your city, check out www.timeraiser.ca.

-Jessica Lockhart, International Programs Coordinator, and Jane Baldwin, Volunteer Programs Liasion

The VAC Retreat: YCI’s active youth leaders doing what they do best!

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 http://www.yci.org/html/inCanada/council.asp.

If you’d like to see what our Volunteer Action Network is currently working on, or for how you can get involved, check out http://www.yci.org/html/inCanada/network.asp.




Eighteen years young

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

Summer School

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

One Night at the World Youth Congress

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