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Building leaders through volunteerism

For 40 years Canada World Youth (CWY) has enabled 34,000 youth aged 15 to 29 to participate in international co-operation programs hosted by 11,000 families in more than 67 countries. This week (Oct.

For 40 years Canada World Youth (CWY) has enabled 34,000 youth aged 15 to 29 to participate in international co-operation programs hosted by 11,000 families in more than 67 countries.

This week (Oct. 17 to 23), the work of these volunteers and the significant impact these experiences have had on thousands of youth around the world will be celebrated. Forty special events will be held in 40 different cities, and more than 130 municipalities have officially proclaimed Canada World Youth Week, including Sechelt.

CWY offers young people the opportunity to learn new languages, embrace diversity, and improve awareness and appreciation for other cultures. CWY participants cultivate skills to become involved in community-based projects related to the environment, health and equity. For many of the youth volunteers, the experience is life-changing. CWY shapes who they are and who they will become.

As an organization, CWY contributes to the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals and trains new generations of youth to become active global citizens. CWY participants volunteer more than one million hours every year by building youth leadership in Canada and around the world.

Enriching the lives of young Canadians has never been more important. This past September, Canada's youth unemployment rate stood at 14 per cent. This means that more than 400,000 Canadians aged 15 to 24 were still looking to enter the job-market. CWY offers youth a bridge to other countries when other avenues are closed to them. At its best, CWY offers youth the chance to apply their skills and passion in a meaningful experience, at home and overseas. Youth are empowered through these experiences.

The Sunshine Coast has embraced CWY over the years through hosting local groups such as the current Canada-South Africa team, as well as supporting local participants.

Beyond the national events of the 40th anniversary, CWY is committed to broadening its approach to youth leadership. Programs must be accessible. As the value of volunteerism and community engagement grows, CWY will reach out to young people from First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis communities, as well as youth from rural areas, with a goal to engage youth from every socio-economic group, even those not accustomed to turning their sights overseas.

Canada has some two million citizens living abroad. Many do fabulous work as volunteers. Organizations like CWY focus on young people from all parts of Canada, giving them a platform and opportunity to volunteer abroad. They represent the leading edge of this country's soft power and a huge advantage for Canadian business and Canadian citizens.

Editor's note: Kai Nestman, originally from Sechelt, participated in Canada World Youth's 2009/10 Youth Leaders in Action program in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec and in Allada, Benin. He is also a member of the CWY board of directors.