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Get Out and Volunteer

February 23, 2009

Why seeing the world from the ground up is making an impact on young lives.

Experience is the greatest teacher. So, I’ve been told. I’ve also been told it’s anathema to use clichés: I use that as an excuse to begin with a cliché. Yet, to the point, experience is transformative, and one of the greatest ways to gain experience is through traveling and volunteering. I was interested in volunteering abroad, if only to get out of Toronto, and so should you – volunteer that is. And why not? Think of it, the chance to travel to some far away place, giving back to the world, empowering yourself and not just lying about on a beach ordering the poor locals to do your bidding.


Volunteering offers the participant the chance to give something back to the community. After graduation I found many of my friends had taken on travel volunteerism. It would seem volunteering was a popular option for the twenty-something graduates who are workless and faithless in their job prospects. I met up with two volunteers to ask them why and how the got involved. I hope you are inspired too and can share some of your own experiences. Check the full story here. It’s worth it!

Zoё McGrath, 25, sits across from me inside the dimly lit Manic Coffee. It’s mid-way through winter and my skin is almost as pale as the snow – an admirable feat considering my West Indian-Ojibway background. She has the burnished quality of a surfer –the healthy sunshine glow people in Toronto long for by mid-March. She has just returned from two months of volunteering in Tanzania with Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS).

Cross Cultural Experience

“I heard about Cross Cultural Solutions through internet research – it’s one of the first things that pop up in a Google Search,” says Zoё. “I then found out from my cousin that his girlfriend had taken part in the program.”

She tells me that she had the option of choosing where she could volunteer. “They had five different locations for me to choose from,” She goes on to say. “I always wanted to go to Africa, and this was a safe place with little political strife. The research says it’s beautiful, and it was. It’s also where Mount Kilamanjaro is.”

The Snowcapped Kilamjaro
The Snowcapped Kilimanjaro

Before she left, CCS arranged phone calls to introduce the fellow volunteers. She was provided enough information to feel comfortable about where she was going, but she didn’t know what she would be doing before she left.

She ended up doing something she loved, working with young children between 4 and 12. “I was working in a school teaching young children to read and write. I was also placed at an orphanage with some older children,” she says with a smile.

Zoe taking, a break with her kids, from teaching

Zoe taking a break, with her kids, from teaching

When asked why she chose to volunteer her answer is simple. ” I wanted to go somewhere and live there instead of sightseeing. I wanted to meet people and form relationships. The hardest part of leaving is trying to maintain those relationships, and the feeling of abandoning the people you leave behind. I spent two months with those children, and I miss them.”

“I think doing good things for people is good,” tells me Hugh Merson, 20, now a Montessori grade school teacher. It’s a simple statement that sums up how he came into Katimavik, and how it shaped his career choice.

Hugh says, ” I heard about it through my highschool philopshy teacher, who recoomend it. I saw Justin Trudeau speak about it. I was interested.”

For three months at a time Hugh lived in Saskatoon, Shelburn, ON and  Grand Fall, NB. It provided him the chance to work with young children and develop workshops for young children. “I found I was good working with children and it helped lead my on my path now to Montessori.”

Volunteering locally is a good place to start if you’re the type who wants to help in your community. I found volunteering a great way to network at events like Word on the Street, and to get the name of the magazine On The Danforth out.

On The Danforth

(BTW, you gotta check out the student magazine. Respect to Ariel for editing and a good friend James Kearns for music editing and letting me makes lots of noise with my clumsy guitar playing.)


It is undeniable though that volunteering is a good way to meet new people and give something back, no matter what your motive.

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