“Many people are happy with the Sault public transit. Most people are excited with newness, a new climate, culture and the indigenous presence.” ~ Josh Kioke
Canada World Youth (CWY) has been around for over 30 years. It is a cousin to the Katimavik program started in Quebec over 35 years ago. CWY highlights the diversity and unique local cultures in Canada. In the 2014 and 2015 programs, participants lived in cities throughout Canada-everywhere from Cornwall to Rankin Inlet.
I had a chance to speak with Josh Kioke from CWY. He and his counterpart, Regina Waita from Africa, are the Project Supervisors for a group of young CWY adults here in Sault Ste. Marie. Josh is a University of British Columbia graduate of Arts and First Nation Studies. He is originally from the far North James Bay region and has grown up in this region.
Josh received word while he was overseas in Tanzania that his next journey would be here in Sault Ste. Marie acting as a supervisor and facilitator for the group that arrived from Kenya and Tanzania in December 2014. He has helped find host families and community volunteer projects for those involved in this program.
Allowing for the exploration of personal interests and experiences in overseas volunteerism, the CWY’s Young Leaders in Action program enables young people opportunities to acquire leadership skills. The experience also demonstrates a pretty decent commitment and offers a kind of prestige when returning back to Africa.
This newest troupe of guests, consisting of fourteen youth from Africa and Canada, were able to continue on with the work started by the previous group. Christmas cheer and educational volunteer placements have been very popular amongst the contingent as well as some opportunities to support the Soup Kitchen and to help out at the Mill Market. Since the passing of the bustling Christmas season it has been a bit more of a challenge to find volunteer opportunities.
Usually the CWY program runs about five to six months. This round of youth will be hosted in Sault Ste. Marie for two and a half months for the Canadian phase of their adventure. Community involvement and leadership is a major skill everyone can develop. Josh says that it is a challenging role either as a volunteer or as a supervisor. He says sometimes the experiences can be tough or people can be confronted with realities they may not otherwise experience in their home countries.
The exchange experience can be very intense for newcomers when encountering the foreign and unique ways of Canada. A very important part of the CWY program allows the participants to learn about traditional culture to the area. Organizers built in an Anishnabek moment in the program this year. Participants can gaze across the thousands of years of an evolving Canada through a local window.
“It has been a terrific experience,” says Josh of the visiting youths’ opportunity to learn about the Anishnabek culture.
They will be going to Manitoulin Island this week for a bit of a break. This allows both their host families and the participants some time to reflect, regroup and experience the amazing natural surroundings of Manitoulin Island in the winter. Many have not had much time in such a winter wonderland, so more new experiences will no doubt be had at this venue.
As one can imagine the experiences had between the continents are quite disparate. According to Josh projects in Africa are more labor focused and entail specialized projects. In Canada program organizers seek out volunteer and cross-cultural educational opportunities quite often within the educational, cultural and social sectors. These placements tend to be driven by the individual’s interests.
“A lot of people have some kind of expertise. We hope to match that,” remarked Josh. “One of the participants worked in a daycare in Africa, they have a chance to bring that knowledge here and see how things are done here. Everyone brings a different element to our community.”
He does reflect that there can be major difficulties with cultural differences. Values and beliefs are different and this takes negotiation. A major skill learned is how to mitigate those differences when sending young people across the world. When asked of the challenge adjusting to new cultural situation Josh related his own experiences travelling abroad.
“Well this is mostly based on each individual preference, but one thing is food. Some people are more hesitant to try something different or that they may not be familiar with. One of the big differences is the city’s sizes,” he shared. “There are four million people in my exchange city of Dar Sal, Africa. It was a bit city experience.”
Small town life is a significant adjustment for African youth visiting. In Tanzania much of the daily routine is spent in travel and commuting. Bus transit may be irregular in some areas such as where Josh stayed. He reminisced about the service in his host city.
“I felt lucky when it showed up. It was very rudimentary. Everyone finds it easy to move around in Sault Ste. Marie.”
When asked if there is anything he wishes he could change, Josh had to think hard before he thoughtfully shared, “Time it moves so quickly. It is an intense experience, so it is really hard to say. Everyone is going through things for the first time. There is so much room to grow. We rely on the individuals that participate, and they are all pretty great!”