Katimavik at risk: Future of youth volunteer program up in the air
Written by Jaelene Skaley
Update: After this article was written, it was announced in the 2012 budget that FEDERAL government funding for Katimavik would in fact be cut off. As of March 31, 2013, funds will be discontinued and the program will cease to exist.
For Hamilton, Ont. native Rae Shirton, the opportunity to become a Katimavik volunteer was “a dream come true.” However, it is a dream that many Canadian youth may never get to fulfil.
Katimavik is a national volunteer program for Canadian youths, ages 17 to 21. It focuses on engaging youth in volunteer service, exposing them to the cultural diversity of our country, as well as helping to create sustainable communities across Canada.
“Everything about Katimavik is amazing; the travelling, the getting to meet new people, the work experience. I’ve never done anything like this,” said Shirton, who is a volunteer placed in Lethbridge.
More than 30,000 people have participated in the program since its creation in 1977. This number could soon come to a standstill, with Liberal MP Justin Trudeau voicing his concerns of imminent funding cuts to the program.
This isn’t the first time Katimavik has been at risk of being cut off. The program, which receives its funding from the Canadian Heritage department and other donations, became non-existent in 1986 when its federal funding was killed by the Brian Mulroney government. However, it was revived in 1994 by the Liberals under Jean Chrétien.
Funding was slashed once again in 2010, when a nearly $5-million cut forced Katimavik to drastically alter the structure of the program. The nine-month “classic” program had to be brought to an end, leaving applicants with only the six-month program option.
For past participant, Stephen Fernandes, the program was a major turning point in his life, one that he credits for where he is today.
“Before the program, I was aimless and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. At the end, I left knowing that I wanted to go to school to pursue a career in human resources and social work. (Katimavik) impacts me every day of my life in a positive way and will continue to do so,” said Fernandes, who is now a student at York University in Toronto.
Victoria Salvador, national director of marketing and communications for Katimavik, says as of now the program has yet to receive any official word of a possible cut. However, that isn’t stopping past and present Katimavik participants from making their voices heard.
Devyn House, 19, of Fort Erie, Ont. participated in the program last year. House, like many others, is writing to her local representatives, as well as Prime Minister Harper himself, stressing the importance of Katimavik in Canadian society and the detrimental effects that it would have if it were to be cut.
“It’s the least I can do to help save the program that completely changed my life,” said House.
Katimavik cannot survive without receiving money from the government and its funding agreement with the Department of Canadian Heritage will end on March 31, 2013. There has yet to be any discussions in regards to renegotiating this agreement or what will happen when the time comes.
“We pride ourselves in being a country of opportunity, one that creates change in our youth so they can grow and become contributing members of society; eliminating this program would be nothing but a setback,” said Terralyn Mills, a past participant who is currently a student at King’s University College in London, Ont.
Until then, Katimavik staff, participants, alumni, future applicants and supporters are left waiting for answers. If the outcome is not what they want to hear, don’t expect these Katimavik-ers to go down without a fight.