Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In Memoriam for Katimavik, a program of service to struggling Canadian communities

By Adam van Koeverden, Globe and Mail APril 18, 2012
Adam van Koeverden is an Olympic champion kayaker.

Young people today are facing a crisis of relevance. It’s not obvious to every kid where they’ll fit and what they have to offer society. Katimavik’s empowering work, its structured and meaningful activities, have provided more than 30,000 Canadians with the understanding that fulfilment doesn’t come from what we “want to have” but from what we “have to give.”

More than 1,000 Canadian kids who had signed up to work with Katimavik were slated to leave this July. More than 50 communities, some desperate for this kind of help, had work plans for them. Katimavik wasn’t phased out, it was cancelled. Abruptly. At the expense of Canadian youth and the communities they were preparing to serve.
Katimavik’s value is found in purposefully engaged youth serving our communities. That seems like well-spent money to me. A 2009-10 government study found Katimavik’s objectives “support and mirror the government’s priorities” and offered suggestions to increase efficiency and decrease the cost per participant. Katimavik’s reviews were glowing, never once was it suggested that it is worth scrapping.
A good government’s first priority should be the same as Katimavik’s first priority: service. Tossing Katimavik down the drain had nothing to do with service. In fact, the decision represents a neglect of the government’s duty to serve our communities, the youth who live there, and the young people anxious to travel to them to work, learn and serve.
When will politics in this country be devoted to service, instead of just, well, politics?
There is an even more important question emerging from the cancellation of Katimavik, the Canadian version in national terms of the U.S. Peace Corps, serving internationally.
And that is why has this government reduced everything to a rusted and worn criterion: something called a cost-benefit analysis, and then thrown Katimavik out because the benefits are somewhat internalized, both for the youth who have served and the communities in which they contributed.
It is not only service and self-discovery and development of community resources that are rejected by this short-sighted government, it is also knowledge and awareness of the complexities of the various regions, the cultural variety and richness of the many peoples of this country, and the potential to share that experience with all whose lives cross theirs after the service stint.
Scrawling a red line through the budget item dubbed Katimavik is both literally and symbolically a way of telling Canadians that this government does not care about its people, its youth and its struggling communities, nor does it care to be seen as providing opportunities for adventure, service, self-discovery, leadership and community development that have reached across the nation for the last half century since the inception of this program.
It is not a headline grabber, nor a political 'feather' in the cap of the federal government, and its low-key, unobtrusive but significant character is one of the important traits that makes it very Canadian. And, along with the young writer, himself a child of two Katimavik participants who met after attending the same university while serving in Katimavik ("meeting place") we regret the burial of another quality program of Canada's past, and potentially of her present and future at the hands of this seemingly blind and deaf government, at least to the things that matter to Canadians.

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