If you were at the Tsawwassen dike one Saturday earlier this month, you may have seen me out picking up garbage. What you might not have noticed was the Katimavik logo on my shirt.
Katimavik - Canada's national volunteer service program - gives youth ages 17 to 21 the opportunity to try out different jobs, gain important life skills, and get to know themselves and their country, all while discovering new regions of Canada.
It was announced late last month the Canadian government intends to cut funding to the program, which it feels serves too few youths at too high a cost.
While this may seem reasonable given that only 1,000 youths participate in the program each year, it fails to take into account the benefit to the 50 communities the program operates in each year.
Numerous not-for-profit organizations depend on Katimavik to run, while others are able to offer programming they could not maintain without the additional volunteer support.
The benefit of Katimavik goes beyond the volunteer hours contributed to its host communities, however. Katimavik, which means "meeting place" in Inuktitut, brings Canadians together, connecting east to west, north to south, anglo to franco; in a country as large and diverse as Canada, it is an important unifier.
Furthermore, Katimavik participants work towards learning goals, focusing on community, cultural diversity, second language, volunteerism, healthy lifestyle, sustainability, civic engagement and career planning.
While schools and universities produce academically trained workers, Katimavik creates engaged citizens with a diverse range of work experience.
What does this have to do with my picking up garbage this month? I was participating in a national alumni initiative to show communities that do not host Katimavik groups what the program is really about. Katimavik is not simply a travel program: it's about community and it's about volunteerism.
To find out more about Katimavik and what you can do to prevent its demise, visit www.katimavik.org.