Nanaimo Teen Angered By Loss of Katimavik Program

A letter to James Lunney, Nanaimo-Alberni MLA, in response to the axing of the Katimavik Youth Program.

Katimavik: an Inuktitut word meaning “meeting place”.

My name is Anna McKenzie-Sasges and I am 18 years old, and have lived in Nanaimo for the past 16 years. I love my community. I love Maffeo Sutton Park, and Long Lake. I love Mount Benson and the ferry ride to and from Vancouver. I love the annual Silly Boat, Bathtub, and Dragonboat Races, and especially the Maple Sugar Festival. From the Port Theatre to Woodgrove Centre, Nanaimo is my home.

I am a Nanaimo Girl. This June, I graduated from Nanaimo District Secondary School with my double Dogwood Diplomas in both English and French. I was always very active in my school, especially with the Student’s Council, the Drama Club, and the Zimbabwe Relief Committee. Last spring, as Grade 12 was coming to a close, and everyone was deciding on which university to go to, I made the hard choice to not go away to university and instead to go on a 6-month volunteer program called Katimavik. Leaving my home and setting out on my own for the first time was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but on January 4th, 2012, I packed up my bags and flew to Lévis, QC, to live with 11 other youth from all over the country. And although this has been the scariest experience of my life, it has also been the most valuable and life-changing, and I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. I am now in Orillia, ON for my second rotation.

On March 29th, 2012, though, I heard that my group would be one of the last groups to participate in this program, as our funding has been cut. The youth all across Canada who had signed up and been accepted for the program starting in July 2012 found out they would not be able to go, and the communities and work partners learned they would no longer have their vital volunteers.

My heart breaks for all of those people whose hopes were so high and have now been crushed. The Harper government has decided to cut Katimavik due to the fact that it’s a program that’s “high cost and benefits a small amount of people,” which is completely false. This past year alone there have been over 1400 volunteers, and since the creation of the program in 1977, there have been well over 30,000 volunteers through this organization. That’s the same amount of people who live in Orillia. That is JUST the youth involved; there are still over 60 communities and over 500 work partners who benefit from having Katimavik volunteers in their regions. To say that this program only benefits a small amount of people is so very wrong…Katimavik has benefited more people than you or I will ever know, Mr. Lunney.

Now for the so called “high cost”. Katimavik costs taxpayers a maximum of $15 million every year, although the Honourable James Moore seems to believe it costs $28 million. $15 million, is nothing in the large spectrum of the Canadian budget, in fact it is less than 0.005% of the overall budget. Each volunteer is a cost of only $77 per day, and every dollar we are given from the government goes back into the communities twice as strong. We, as volunteers, make an effort to buy locally and to support businesses in our host communities. We work, for free, at non-profit organizations and at community events. Many of the organizations we work with can simply not afford to pay someone to fill our positions, and will not be able to go on without our valuable contribution. To say we are a “high cost” organization is offensive to someone who knows the importance of the work we do.

On a more personal level, Katimavik has been life changing. Without it, I would still be living at home and working at Avalon Cinemas. With Katimavik, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and broken down the walls I have built up around myself. I have seen the incredible beauty this country has to offer, and I have worked at diverse job placements I never would have without Katimavik. I believe in changing the world for the better from the inside out, and Katimavik gives youth the confidence necessary to accomplish their goals. In my group alone, people have chosen their future careers, have quit smoking, have become more physically fit, and most importantly, have opened their eyes to new experiences. We do not come to Katimavik simply to party and travel, but we work, HARD. Each volunteer offers approximately 700 hours of volunteer work over the six month period, as well as cooking and cleaning for a house of 12 people. I don’t know if you’ve ever cooked and cleaned for 12 people, Mr. Lunney, but it ain’t easy. Katimavik cleans up the streets and prevents youth from spending every night wasting their life away in front of their local Tim Horton’s. Instead we become active and aware Canadian citizens. Which do you prefer?

It deeply upsets me to know that our Conservative Government has cut a program whose pros easily outweigh the cons. I am interested and hope to hear your opinion on the subject.

Thank you for your time,

Anna McKenzie-Sasges