Surrey youth dedicated to making a difference both locally and on a global scale are being recognized by the BC Council for International Cooperation for their efforts.
Krissi Bucholtz, Simon Child Vélez and Semiahmoo Secondary’s InterAct Club are all being profiled on the council’s website in celebration of International Development Week Feb. 6-12.
“The purpose is to recognize the work, the energy and the ideas that youth are bringing to their communities here in Canada, as well as overseas, in order to make change,” BCCIC program officer Lynn Slobogian told Peace Arch News Thursday.
Bucholtz, 20, is being lauded for her work as executive director for the People’s Foundation for Sierra Leone, an organization she co-founded two years ago to provide at-risk youth from the west African country with an opportunity to attend university. The Fraser Valley Christian High School grad first connected with the youth there after visiting as a student teacher during a 2008 school trip.
“I just got really inspired and motivated by working with the kids for a month, so I kind of figured that I wanted to follow an international development path with my work.”
Bucholtz attended the Global Stewardship program at Capilano University, and returned to Sierra Leone for five months, and was joined by friend Katie Jenkins.
“We had an idea of starting our own project,” Bucholtz said, noting the average salary in Sierra Leone is $200 a month.
“There’s no way these kids can afford to go beyond high school. I basically wanted to start a project that would give them that opportunity, but instead of just giving them handouts, starting a project that would empower them and enable them to take (action) in their own lives.”
The duo has already sent four youth to university through their efforts, and are now working to raise another $10,000.
Bucholtz is to return to the country in May and use the money to renew the four current scholarships for another year, as well as send another four students to university.
Bucholtz – who plans to teach and run the organization in Sierra Leone after gaining her education degree – said she felt humbled and excited for the project to be highlighted by the BCCIC.
“It’s interesting for me because it’s not about me being recognized for the work, but it’s about the work getting out there because now more people know about the need in Sierra Leone,” she said. “It’s a chance to represent all the incredible youth I work with.”
Bucholtz is profiled alongside Semiahmoo Secondary Grade 12 student Child Vélez, director of the Africa Canada Accountability Coalition, a research and advocacy group based at UBC.
He researches Canada’s relationship with the Great Lakes region of Africa, and makes that research accessible through the Internet and social media, as a basis for advocacy campaigns and policies.
“I believe that you are responsible for what you know,” Child Vélez said in a prepared statement. “Once you’re no longer ignorant, you need to advocate with your government to do more to alleviate suffering in the world.”
Semiahmoo’s InterAct Club mounts successful campaigns to alleviate injustices both in the community and internationally through work with ACCES Kenya and the local food bank.
The club is being represented by its president, 17-year-old Fara Shah, featured last October in Peace Arch News after earning the B.C. Youth Gandhi Award.
“Essentially, as the youth and the future of our global society, we have taken the responsibility of improving issues that matter to us,” Shah said as representative.
The public is invited to hear more about the youth’s efforts at www.bccic.ca, where visitors can watch video, read and listen to a podcast.
The profiles will be available until Feb. 18, and are part of a national campaign supported by the Canadian International Development Agency, called I Am Making A Difference.
The BCCIC received nominations for the initiative, and a jury made up of youths recognized last year chose eight people 30 and younger to highlight.
“The idea is to share their stories hopefully to inspire others to also make changes in their communities, to inspire others to know they can make a difference – it doesn’t matter how old they are or where they live,” Slobogian said. “For myself, I’ve found it very inspiring and energizing to learn about their work, to hear about how they approach making a change.
“They tell their stories really powerfully. It’s been excellent getting to know them.”