The March 29 federal budget didn’t exactly roll out its welcoming mat to some federally funded programs across Canada. The Katimavik program happened to be one of those.
Now many community leaders and organizations across the country are lending a voice in support the thousands of volunteers who have signed up to take part in the volunteer a six month community partnership experience.
Founded in 1977 the national youth volunteer program selects up to 1,100 Canadian youth between the ages of 17-21 to diverse communities to volunteer with local community organizations.
Wendy Hillier is the Town Manager in North West River and said the support from the youth in the community went beyond volunteer hours.
“Their cultural experience that they gained when their here is stuff that they take with them with the rest of their life,” Hillier said.
Hillier said having hosted many Katimavik volunteers in the town over the years, both the town official and the citizens are still in contact with Katimavik volunteers from the past four and five years.
“I know the impact that they’ve had on us but as well the impact that we’ve had on them; there’s kids here that snared their first rabbit, kids that have never ever seen a partridge before and we always make time to make sure that they always get that cultural experience as well.”
According to Hillier the Katimavik program is a ‘win win’ situation.
“The town and all the work partners benefit tremendously. Last summer we had a recreation program with the community centre and they helped with that as well.
“For the program to be going on for so long for the last 35 years and for this to happen now through all the times when governments fiscal position changed in the last 35 years…many times we always managed to maintain that program. So really at this point, when we know how important culture is now more than ever across Canada, for that program to be slashed it’s just a very heavy blow to everyone involved.”
Victorica Salvador is the director of marketing and communications for Katimavik.
“We were surprised and extremely disappointed actually,” she told the Labradorian.
“There was nothing that would have allowed us to believe that we were going to be singled out in this budget.”
Salvador said the program had an agreement signed with the Department of Canadian Heritage up to March 31, 2013. “We just received a fantastic summative evaluation from the Department of Canadian Heritage which explains how the programs are completely in line with the goals and have attained the goals that were put forward for Katimavik,”
However, on March 30, 2012, the program was informed by the Department that funding would cease when the current group of participants completes the second half of their Katimavik experience at the end of June.
Eighteen-year-old, Jacqueline O-Neill Huerta and 21- year-old Nelligan Tetrault recently arrived in Labrador from their host community of Saint Boniface in Winnipeg. The two are now joining eight other youth on the second leg of their six month experience volunteering in the Katimavik program. They will be spending the next three months in the communities of North West River and Sheshatshiu.
O-Neill Huerta said her experience in Winnipeg as a volunteer with a francophone citizenship organization helped her not only in enhancing her French language skills but also in team building. “I got a really good reference from them so that will be very good for any jobs I get in the future,” she said.
O-Neill Huerta said she plans to pursue international business program possibly focusing on the marketing area.
“The fact that I know how to work in a group and do office work will help me with that,” she says.
“In the Katimavik house itself there is a lot of group work and how to organize yourself within like a bunch of people living in one house; there’s the meals to prepare, the activities to get organized and we have these group meetings usually every week where we basically talk about what activities we can do and what we can do for the community,” she explained.
“It’s too bad that more people can’t go into the program because it gives you great references for job experience. It also gives you a good sense of what you are as a person because as you go through the program you realize more about what strengths you have and what skills you’re good at. You gain a lot of confidence as well because as you learn more about your skills and your development you get more mature, that’s one thing I’ve noticed.”
Nalligen Tetrault is a second generation Katimavik volunteer. Hearing about his mom’s experience in the program in the 70s motivated him to apply. Prior to applying to the program, Tetrault said he had not travelled outside of his home province of Quebec.
“I was looking for a program that wasn’t too expensive and that could bring a lot to me so Katimavik was a perfect fit,” he explained. “I was also looking for something that could improve my English.”
Tetrault volunteered in an elderly care home and brought his skills and talents of guitar playing to share with the elderly patients.
“I learned a lot from it and also the good thing is if you have a certain talent or some thing you want to discover that’s kind of the place where you can get it if you want,” said Tetrault. “It was a nice experience to interact with them that way.”
A number of Katimavik petitions have been created online since the announcement was made on March 29. Supporters are hoping to see the government reverse its decision to cut the national youth volunteer program.