Alisha Kalyniak – Alumni’s Sustained Passion in Working with Youth Takes Her to Mexico

During my 10-week placement in Ghana, which took place from September to November 2012, I had the opportunity to work with youth at the YMCA Vocational Training Institute. Along with my fellow volunteers, I facilitated workshops with the students, designed and implemented a “train the trainer” curriculum, as well as worked in partnership with the students and teachers to plan, coordinate and execute a World AIDS Day event. It was an amazing experience which sparked my desire to continue working with youth in the education sector.

Most recently, I have been working with World Vision Canada as an Education Intern in rural Mexico. I have been in Mexico for more then a month now, and I credit YCI for helping me develop the skills I needed to get to where I am now.

Alisha at the Pyramids of Teotihaucan

Alisha at the Pyramids of Teotihaucan

I am currently living in the municipality of Copainalá, in the region of Chiapas (Southern Mexico). Chiapas is extremely beautiful. Being here has completely altered my preconceptions of Mexico. I’m constantly surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. It is so lush and green here, that I feel as though I am living inside a painting, and it takes my breath away every day.

Also, I have the privilege of working in three different municipalities; Copainalá, Ocotepec and Bochil. The education system is fairly poor in Mexico, especially in rural areas. I am working with World Vision on two projects within the education system, a reading project and a tutoring project targeting children of 6-12 years old. These projects are meant to help keep the kids on track and at the level they should be at. I have had the opportunity to go to several different communities so far to see these projects firsthand. It has been amazing to interact with the children, and watch them excited to learn and participate.

Community Visit to Sarabia, Chiapas

Community Visit to Sarabia, Chiapas

After my internship, I hope to continue pursuing positions overseas working with youth. I will always remember my time in Ghana fondly. While in Ghana for my YCI placement, I learned a lot from the YCI staff, and also from the students & teachers at the YMCA Vocational Training Institute.

Alisha Kalyniak, Youth Leader, Ghana 2012


“An Exercise In Empathy and a Chance to Encourage Thoughtful Discussion”

Live Below the Lines Campaign Manager Erin Deviney interviews YCI Alum Shanna Sunley.

Screen shot 2013-06-18 at 3.02.08 PM

Many of you who signed up for the Live Below the Line challenge on behalf of Youth Challenge International (YCI) already have a personal connection with the organization, just as Shanna Sunley does. I had the opportunity to catch up with Shanna as a Live Below the Line participant and YCI volunteer to find out why she had volunteered with YCI, why she had taken on the LBL Challenge and most importantly her thoughts on both of these actions.

Shanna went to Tanzania as a YCI Youth Ambassador earlier this year to facilitate project management and to provide leadership training to local youth in Zanzibar. Along with other Youth Ambassadors, Shanna was taught how to carry out a community health needs assessment in the local area, and later presented the findings to key stakeholders to inform future project planning. In addition, the YCI volunteers used their training to organize and host a local International Women’s Day event.

It is thrilling to know that individuals such as Shanna are dedicating their time to improving the wellbeing of communities. However, I was a pleasantly surprised to learn of her decision to make another personal commitment towards the eradication of extreme poverty after having returned from Tanzania. On this topic Shanna said,

I think it (LBL) is an opportunity to be a global citizen. It stimulates reflection about the huge inequities that exist in our world, and takes a massive international issue down to the personal level. It is an exercise in empathy and a chance to encourage thoughtful discussion.”

Shanna’s efforts in the Live Below the Line campaign have had a significant impact on many levels – from raising awareness of global youth development to raising awareness of the issue of extreme poverty. Shanna has successfully raised over $300 to support the work of YCI, an organization that she knows to be effective and sustainable. In fact, in knowing that there are over 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world, YCI is unique in that they believe in, and embrace, the power of young people to contribute to their own development.

Also, every conversation that Shanna has had with friends and colleagues about LBL has raised further awareness about the issue of extreme poverty. Yet this challenge is very personal to Shanna having had come back from Tanzania recently. The Live Below the Line experience gave her further insight into the everyday realities of her host family and community members in Tanzania.

As Live Below the Line‘s Campaign Manager, I am continually inspired by Shanna and the hundreds of other Canadians who dared to partake in the Live Below the Line challenge. If you haven’t had the opportunity to embark on this unique challenge or to fundraise, you can still participate until June 30th.

That’s less than 2 weeks away. So, join Live Below the Line before it’s too late. Your efforts will raise awareness of extreme poverty and help support the critical work that Youth Challenge International is doing to end it.


Half the Fun

Carly Court was a volunteer in Guatemala with YCI in 2010 and then returned to the Toronto office in January 2013 as YCI’s Volunteer Program Assistant. She recently arrived in Mwanza as a Youth Innovator to support YCI’s partners. Read about Carly’s experience in Tanzania by following her blog The New Smart.

“Travelling alone. As a girl. In East Africa.

If you want a genuine reaction when you are informing people about your upcoming travel plans, open with the latter statement.

Shock value aside, there are considerable challenges and rewards that come with working alone as a YCI Innovator. This is especially true when working in a city that is new to both yourself and the organization you are representing. YCI’s programming is still relatively recent here in Mwanza, as there has only been one YCI volunteer here before me. Partnerships with local organizations are still fresh and developing. Speaking of developing, my YCI in-country Program Manager and I are still learning how to navigate Mwanza’s dala-dala interpretation of public transportation. So far, all things considered, I have encountered many challenges- from coordinating and scheduling trainings, to finding someone to hang out with during my time off. But one of the true joys of travelling and volunteering abroad is turning challenges into adventures, and adventures into rewarding experiences and memories

Carly's on-field blog 1

Mwanza, Tanzania

Kindness Connect: Recipients of YCI’s Global Action Grant Winners Take Website to the Next Level

Jon Burns and Kevan Osmond were selected as winners of YCI’s Global Action Grant for Kindness Connect, a web platform they are creating for volunteers and community organizations alike. Their goal is to remove barriers to volunteering and get more people ‘up on their feet’ doing good work for great organizations.


Kindness Connect - Jon (left) Kevan (right)

Our Progress
The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity. Building the Kindness Connect web platform has run much like your typical software development project, but with one notable exception. We began with ideas: big ones, little ones, far-fetched ones, and easily attainable ones. With all of the ideas in front of us it was time to prioritize by thinking about how each could turn into a useful feature. The result was a list of core requirements that would make up Kindness Connect.

The next step was to thoughtfully sketch each feature into web design mock-ups. This was when the real grind began. Taking sketches and making them come to life is a lot like taking a sheet of music and using an instrument to bring a song to life. In our case, the sheet of music is the design sketch, the instrument is computer programming code, and the song is the web platform.

However, this hasn’t been a solo mission, which brings us to our notable exception. At the beginning of the project we set a rule that this would be a collaborative effort. We weren’t going to build it alone. True to this rule, we’ve been meeting with community organizations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These organizations have provided us with invaluable feedback on their workflow, difficulties they face, product suggestions, and so forth.


Jon and Kevan hosting a workshop at the University of Waterloo’s Leadership Starts Here Conference

Next Up
We’re happy to announce that the technical development of Kindness Connect is almost complete and we’re moving onto a milestone that we’ve been looking forward to: putting Kindness Connect in the hands of the public. This milestone is really important for us. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate what we’ve been building, connect with users, and amass some real world usage.

Kindness Connect's Map Search: a tool for finding opportunities in a user's area

Kindness Connect’s Map Search: a Tool for Finding Opportunities in a User’s Area

We’re fortunate to have the support of some great organizations in the GTA who have agreed to help us with this public testing phase. We’ll also be looking for individuals in the area to evaluate from a volunteer perspective.

The community has been a great source for generating ideas for Kindness Connect. Frequently in random meetings and conversations people have shared their ideas by saying “wouldn’t it be cool if” or “have you thought of” and often these ideas have made their way into development.

We are grateful for such input and equally grateful to YCI for selecting us as the recipients of the Global Action Grant. We feel as though we have been warmly welcomed into YCI’s fantastic community and would like to extend an invitation to the YCI community to provide us with further suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line, introduce yourself, and share any ideas you might have at It’s simple: if you have ideas, we’d love to hear them.

Thank-you to YCI for your support and to the YCI community for keeping us inspired.

Happy volunteering!

– Jon and Kevan

Email –
Twitter – @KindnessToronto
Facebook –
Website –

YCI’s First Spring Social- A Huge Success!

On Friday March 22nd, we hosted our 1st Spring Social networking event to bring together Youth Challenge International alumni, staff, board members, and friends in celebration of our youth development programs and the incredible people involved with YCI. The evening was a blast for everyone. Attendees enjoyed mingling with a networking bingo game where they met people who had been on safari, rode a camel, visited Kaeiteur Falls, and stood on Umbrella Rock. A travel-related silent auction raised over $800.


Sarah and Joanna, two Costa Rica alumni enjoying a game of pool

Now in our 25th year, we are excited about strengthening our alumni network and bringing together like-minded people that have a passion for youth and international development. What we quickly came to realize as we called the 400+ Toronto alumni to invite them to this event, is that a lot of YCI alumni have moved on from Toronto and live all over the world from Chile to Dubai to Australia and everywhere in between. YCI’s alum are leading successful lives with very exciting careers in international development, travel, adventure, and more. Two alum with whom we have recently reconnected with have started their own travel companies, Angus Murray and Rick Snowdon.


Stephen Brown (Chairman of the Board) with Julie Harris (Alumni)

Angus Murray, 1990 Guyana Alum, is the founder of Live Out Loud Adventures, an environmentally responsible and socially conscious trek adventure company that operates in Tanzania, Ecuador, Canada, and Nepal (Mt. Everest). On May 21, 2008, Angus became the 50th Canadian to summit Mt. Everest!

Rick Snowdon, 2006 Grenada Alum, is the founder of Spirit of the West Adventures, a kayak adventure company that provides fun, safe, and ecologically sound kayaking experiences in BC. As a freelance writer, guide and photographer Rick has travelled around Canada and around the world.


Gabriela, Jessica, Lauren, and Nucci, former YCI staff


It’s all smiles for Carly Court (Volunteer Program Assistant) and Amanda Armstrong (Volunteer Program Coordinator)


Bryan Cox (Executive Director) and Stephen Brown (Chairman of the Board)

Thank you to everyone that attended and supported the 1st YCI Spring Social! As we continue to grow, we are continuously expanding our network of young leaders and people who believe in positive change around the world. Our newest upcoming initiative is YCI’s Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks, which we hope you will join us for. Find out more at

Look out for more YCI networking events in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and other cities across the globe in the future!

YCI Alumni Jessie Gresley-Jones launches the Mombasa-Canada Scholarship Fund

When I volunteered for Youth Challenge International I never thought it would have such a long-term impact on my life. I was fortunate enough to volunteer from January to June of 2009 in Mombasa Kenya. While in Mombasa I volunteered at Kwacha Afrika, YCI’s local partner, organizing workshops, events, forums and community events, focusing on health promotion, leadership, human rights and equality.

While at Kwacha Afrika, I worked closely with many youth including, a 16 year old boy whose amazing dedication, hard work and passion for helping those around him always amazed me. After working with him for many weeks I began to understand the difficult circumstances he faced, orphaned and living with his older brother, barely able to afford 3 meals a day. He expressed many times how much he wanted to go back to school, but couldn’t return because his brother could not afford to send him.

I sent an email to my parents describing the boy’s situation and they quickly decided to send money so that he could return to school. During the following months in Kenya, Michael Kalu (our local officer) and myself began the paperwork to establish a scholarship fund for youth in Mombasa. Within my six months in Kenya we had received enough donations from friends and family back home to support 7 students in returning to school.

Upon returning to Canada, we began the application process to become a registered charity with Revenue Canada. In March we were approved and are now fully registered and fundraising to continue supporting the seven students currently in school, as well as accepting additional students each year.

The scholarship fund is intended to help youth who have no financial means of funding their education and provide them with the opportunity to pursue their educational goals. The scholarship fund also provides support by mentoring the youth in their pursuit of education.

Preference is given to those youth whose parent, or parents are deceased, or who do not live with, or gain financial support from their parents. Proof of parental income or of a guardian’s income is required as a determining factor of each applicant.

Once students have been accepted to receive a scholarship, our local program officer Michael, helps them select a suitable school and make all necessary arrangements. Because many of the students do not have any family members, Michael accompanies them to the school, helps buy school supplies and ensures they are settled. Our preference is to find boarding schools for all of our students. This ensures they have a safe place to live, access to three meals a day, access to water and no distractions from their school studies. Although tuition is more for boarding schools, we think it is worth the added cost!

So far we have managed to raise money simply through word of mouth and a large group of very supportive, caring friends and family. We always welcome donations and are constantly amazed by the generosity of those around us!

For more information check us out at:

– Jessie Gresley-Jones, YCI Youth Ambassador. Jessie volunteered on back-to-back YCI projects in Kenya during the Winter and Spring of 2009.

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

Continuing to Inspire: Jessica Lockhart in Guyana

Jessica Lockhart has been a long-time member of the YCI family. In addition to being a YCI alumna (Vanuatu, 2006), Jessica worked in the Toronto office as a member of the Volunteer and International Programs Teams for more than two years. Now, Jessica is back travelling the globe- this time in Guyana. Check out her blog:

For over two years at YCI, I‘ve wished countless volunteers good luck as they’ve set off on their international volunteer placements. And for over two years, I’ve often sat at my desk, under the soft glow of my computer screen, wishing that I was in their place instead. Those two years afforded me a lot of time to wonder—if I were a YCI volunteer, and had the chance to do it all over again, where would I go?

For a while, Africa seemed like the obvious choice. The only problem? Urban centres have never appealed to me. Coming from a rural community in northern Alberta, I’m continually drawn to communities that have characteristics in common with my hometown—whether it’s size, isolation or even industry.  Guatemala and Costa Rica were both at the top of my list for a while, but at the end of the day, I kept coming back to one place: Guyana. Volunteers would come back raving about their experience, and I would spend hours sorting through photos of the lush jungle scenery and the vast savannah plains.

It seemed only too fortuitous that just as my contract with YCI ended in early August, a job opening was passed my way for a short-term site coordinator position in Guyana. And it also seemed somewhat serendipitous that the hiring manager was friends with a YCI alumnus, who gave me a lovely reference. Everything was somehow falling into place.

So at the end of August, after years of preparing volunteers for their adventures, I was finally setting out on an adventure all of my own. After a hectic three weeks in Alberta and BC visiting family, I flew back to Toronto early one Saturday afternoon. And then, after only four hours of frantic packing, I was back at the airport again later that night, this time to catch my evening flight to Georgetown.

My flight itinerary was the very same one that I’ve sent to volunteers over the years. Overnight to Guyana, a brief stopover in the Port of Spain, and maybe a night at the Hotel Tower before orientation with Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG).  Sitting on the plane, I thought about how many YCI volunteers before me had sat in that exact same spot.

I spent the next 10 days travelling through Region 7 and Region 2 of Guyana, meeting community partners and local stakeholders in preparation for an upcoming short-term medical mission in October. And everywhere I went, people’s eyes lit up in recognition whenever I mentioned my connection to YCI. (During one such meeting with a stakeholder, I mentioned my experience in passing. But the conversation soon took a turn, when I found out that the stakeholder in question was the founder of YCG!) It didn’t matter where I was—a YCI volunteer had been before me.

As I prepare to return to Guyana with Ve’ahavta in October, I can’t help but think about what a small world it really is—and how YCI has become, over the last five years, my family. I know that wherever I head next, there will be a network of alumni and supporters there to help me along the way.

To learn more about Ve’ahavta’s work in Guyana, please visit their website at You can read more about my adventures in Guyana, Vanuatu and throughout Canada at

I'm standing in front of where the Mazaruni and Kamarang Rivers fork in Kamarang. Kamarang is in the Upper Mazaruni, in Region 7 of Guyana.