Katimavik program returns to Wheat City


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A popular inter-provincial youth program has once again set up shop in Brandon after a nearly 20-year absence.

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This article was published 07/02/2022 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A popular inter-provincial youth program has once again set up shop in Brandon after a nearly 20-year absence.

Katimavik central cluster project supervisor Fiija Derro described the program as a youth volunteer service organization allowing participants to live in and volunteer in unique communities for around three months at a time.

Since it was founded, the purpose of Katimavik has been to serve as a “school of life,” giving participants from across the country a chance to experience new communities and try new ways of living in a safe and healthy environment.

“It’s to teach participants important life skills such as managing a household to professionalism skills, volunteering in the community,” Derro said. “What Katimavik has brought on in the last few years has been a very large commitment to truth and reconciliation.”

Katimivik, which was founded in 1977 and briefly paused in 2012, places a focus on empowering youth and embracing a commitment between truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada. The program is centred on an approach of fostering long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between participants and the local communities they volunteer in.

Nationwide, the program will see 5,439 participants over five years, dedicating 4.6 million volunteer hours supporting social services, poverty reduction, reconciliation, social justice, gender equality and other areas of impact.

To date, the youth volunteer service has had more than 37,000 participants.

Katimavik volunteers arrived in Brandon on Jan. 12 and will be volunteering at different non-profits before relocating to Calgary. The young people volunteer eight hours a day from Monday to Thursday and spend Fridays learning about truth and reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, in our society people will need help no matter what. That’s just a fact of life. But in the pandemic, a lot of community service organizations have either retracted for their own safety or operational requirements, but a lot of organizations have been needing help,” Derro said. “They’ve been needing more volunteers, they’ve been needing more support. That’s where Katimavik has really stepped in to provide those volunteers.”

The selection process for Katimavik is rigorous, Derro said, because organizers need to ensure volunteers are a good fit for the program and Katimavik is a good fit for them. The program is open to volunteers between the ages of 16 and 26, they said, and it sees a rich and diverse group of participants coming from all backgrounds to participate.

The Brandon house began to be prepped in mid-December for the arrival of participants — this included talking with potential community partners.

The goal was to ensure participants would be able to hit the ground running when they arrived.

“I’m so excited to see the types of projects that we are going to get up to,” Derro said. “I think this is going to be a successful partnership with the community.”

The Brandon Katimavik project currently has five volunteers living in the Wheat City and working in partnership with Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, Sexuality Education Resource Centre MB, Helping Hands Centre of Brandon Inc., Brandon Friendship Centre, Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, Samaritan House Ministries Inc. and Career Connections Inc. Westman.

Participants Hannah Lyon, 18, from Kingston, Ont., and Meaghan Foster, 18, from Timmins, Ont., have enjoyed their time in Brandon since first arriving in January.

They are excited to be participating in the project because it marks the first time a Katimavik house has been in Brandon since the early 2000s.

There are five participants living in the Katimavik house, along with the project leader. The young people do not know each other until they move in together.

Lyon and Foster were fortunate, they said, because they were able to find each other at the Toronto Pearson Airport on their journey out to the Prairies. They later connected with the other volunteers in Winnipeg before making their way out to Brandon.

“On the shuttle here, most of us just talked the whole way getting to know each other. But before that, you have no knowledge,” Foster said. “It’s meant to be a big surprise — you meet people and then you sleep in the same room as them that night.”

They have enjoyed their time in Brandon and volunteering at different community non-profits. The transition to the new community has also included fun and compelling moments of culture shock.

“It’s been really nice. It’s really cold — that’s definitely a big thing — and there’s a lot more snow,” Lyon said. “The people are really lovely. There’s a lot of little differences that are really interesting to notice.”

One of the most striking experiences has been how friendly people are in Brandon. Community members also seem excited to meet them and they have had so many friendly engage in a chat.

Foster said Timmins is an industrial town and many are there to work. They have found Brandon has a lovely culture and it has been neat seeing the difference — even when it comes to something as simple as the construction of buildings.

“It feels more homey, more welcoming than just metal buildings and empty pavement streets,” Foster said. “There are so many little things that just contribute to warm experiences.”

Witnessing the rich cultural diversity in Brandon has also been a striking experience.

“It’s way more diverse here in Brandon. At our job in the morning we just meet people from all over the world. It’s so amazing. I wouldn’t have had that experience without Katimavik and coming to Brandon in general,” Foster said.

Katimavik is a learning experience first and foremost, Lyon said, providing participants with skills they can add to their tool belt when out looking for jobs or applying to university. She added participants need to come into the project with an open mind and ready to learn.

“You’re going to gain so much from the people around you and from your job experience,” Lyon said.

The project covers the gamut of important experiences ranging from work skills to leadership skills, social skills and everything in between.

Katimavik is designed as a challenge centred on teaching participants about themselves, the town they live in, the people they encounter and the country as a whole. Foster said it is not always easy — participants can feel homesick and the jobs can be challenging, but they have a strong support system in place to help ensure they find success.

“You know the experience is probably going to change you at least a little bit fundamentally, and that’s why we’re all here — we knew that and we wanted that,” Foster said.

Canada now feels so small, Lyon added with a chuckle. It has been amazing to visit new communities and see how everyone is still Canadian, she said, even though they come from different backgrounds and experiences.

Foster encourages others to participate in the program because of the rich experience the project has to offer.

“Katimavik was really an opportunity to build experiences and build back my own confidence,” Foster said. “You can learn so much, do so much and experience so much while being able to relax more and step back from the stressful parts of your life.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

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