What I learned at school today….

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say “Wow, I really learned something cool in school today.”

Over the last couple of weeks I went to visit and interview students and teachers from different schools in Toronto. I consider myself very lucky to be doing a job that I really believe in and to be a part of an organization that has a lot of impact. But when I get the opportunity to talk to young YPI participants, that’s when I start to feel really lucky to be a part of these students’ growth during these important years of learning.

At one school, I met an incredibly passionate young man who told me his story. Barry came to Canada seeking refugee status; he had no family or contacts here, so he did his best to talk to people about what he should do. He arrived at the Ottawa airport and stayed there for two days, asking people where he should go, what he should do. He was told “Go to Toronto, there are lots of opportunities there,” and so he did. Barry found his way to a home that focuses on helping newcomers to Canada with their settlement process. He was amazed by the family atmosphere created there, and the welcoming nature of the work they did. For his YPI project, Barry convinced his group to advocate for the home, and knew that by telling his own story, the rest of the class would see how passionately he wanted to be able to give back to the group that had done so much for him. What an amazing role model for other students in his class- to be able to speak openly about his struggles and successes, and to want to raise awareness about this important social issue.

At the same school, I met Shafi. He did YPI last year and he didn’t win the grant for his charity, but, like so many other students we hear about, he went on to work with organizations that support his interest. Shafi took me to Native Child and Family Services first- the charity he had chosen for his project. He told me about the services they offered, and why the work they do is important. We then went next door to the Toronto Police Services building, to meet his youth group for Victim Services. Through Victim Services, this amazing group of young people run an outreach program to help other young people identify the signs of domestic violence and how to seek help. Another youth in the group also did YPI at his school; he is enrolled in an arts program and so he now is making a video for Victim Services that they will use during their presentations. It was eye-opening for me to hear their ideas, to learn about the ways they would understand an issue, and to see the courage and dedication they have to speak up about such an important topic.

So what I learned at school is this: I was always aware that like so many people, I want to feel like I am a part of something that is doing good; so while making a donation in a collection box is nice, I’m that person who wants to go out and help build something; literally. Working behind the scenes at a charity is sometimes like that; you know you’re a part of something but you feel like you should be doing more. But like the first lesson in the YPI curriculum teaches, being a philanthropist means caring for your community in whatever way you know how. Barry raises awareness for a home that gave him a home, Shafi and his friend are making presentations and videos for young people dealing with domestic violence. And I’m writing this blog post so that you know that there are amazing young people doing great work for charities in your local community.

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