A diversity of experiences for Development and Peace’s Youth Ambassadors

For a second year, Development and Peace offered a unique professional development/learning opportunity to youth leaders across the country through its Youth Ambassador program. In December 2015, twelve youth were selected to work in dioceses across the country, from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. These twelve youths represent a culturally-diverse, enthusiastic and passionate group of students from across Canada!

In addition to providing a professional development experience in the field of international development to post-secondary students, the Younth Ambassador program is also part of a strategy to increase the visibility of Development and Peace amongst youth across Canada and to engage them in the organization’s mission of international solidarity. 

The Youth Ambassadors worked closely with regional animators, youth leaders and diocesan councils, to create awareness in their communities on issues of global justice. Their hard work and significant contributions to the work of Development and Peace were greatly valued and much appreciated! 

Here are blog posts that each wrote about some of their most memorable experiences as youth ambassadors for Development and Peace. 


Wengsi Chiu, Toronto photo

Wengsi Chiu, Toronto

Wengsi has an undergraduate degree from McGill University in International Development and Urban Systems Geography. She did an internship in rural Guatemala, where she assisted in research on agriculture and food security. As a Development and Peace Youth Ambassador, she sought to engage youth in international development and to have them look beyond their local communities and consider the world. 

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Dan Patriarca photo

Dan Patriarca, National Youth Ambassador

Dan is currently doing a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at the University of Winnipeg. “I joined Development and Peace because I wanted to take on a new experience that was different from what I was used to. I was fortunate enough to become National Youth Ambassador for Development and Peace, and truly enjoyed the tasks in this role.”


Alana Davis photo

Alana Davis, Atlantic Provinces

After working as a community support worker for a few years, Alana returned to school to complete an MBA. She wants to bring her passion for social justice to the world of business, and feels that her work with Development and Peace is a way to start the conversation with people who will make up the future of business here and around the world, and will hopefully inspire in them, “a sense of collective responsibility for the common good.”

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Gabrielle Dupuis photo

Gabrielle Dupuis, Ottawa

Gabrielle is studying Human Relations and Spirituality at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her involvement with Development and Peace began with a solidarity trip to Madagascar. ‘The more I find out about our partners and their work, the more I feel connected to them. One of the things that makes me proudest is that we listen to the voice of our partners.’

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Teresa Looy photo

Teresa Looy, Winnipeg

Teresa’s experience at King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta helped her see how faith calls her to act on social and environmental issues. She is now completing a Master’s degree in Natural Resource Management at the University of Manitoba. “The Youth Ambassador program has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about community engagement and international development.”

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Jeremy Laurie photo

Jeremy Laurie, Vancouver

Jeremy was inspired to pursue social justice on a volunteer, work and academic basis after participating in a Youth Solidarity Tour in Zambia with Development and Peace that exposed him to the destructive impacts of mining, including Canadian mining companies. “Since then, I’ve worked to increase awareness of the socially and environmentally harmful potential of Canadian lifestyles, while providing the tools and resources for meaningful change,” which he continued to do as a Youth Ambassador. 

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Jonathan Spanner photo

Jonathan Spanner, Edmonton

Guided towards social justice through his studies in History and Political Science at the University of Alberta, Jonathan says that being a Youth Ambassador for Development and Peace has been the most inspiring position he has ever had. “Seeing the partners of Development and Peace combat such issues as climate change, structural inequality and post-conflict reconciliation encourages me to work harder for a better world.”

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Syeda Batool photo

Syeda Batool, Southwest Ontario

Inspired by her studies in Social Justice and Peace at King’s University College, Syeda wants to do what she can to make a positive difference in the world. Being a Youth Ambassador has been a perfect outlet! “This role has enabled me to bring about some of the change and positive work in my own community, and this is the kind of valuable work that I hope to continue to pursue.”

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Toronto Youth Acting for Social Change for Refugees

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito” – African Proverb

Students of the Toronto Youth Council for Development and Peace are currently focused on the organization’s campaign on the Syria crisis and raising awareness about refugees in Canada coming from various regions around the world.

An event was held on May 27th in Toronto to shed light on this social justice issue and to let Canadians know how they can support refugees locally and abroad. Refugees, and those working closely with them, were invited to share their experiences of coming to Canada in order to help us better understand how we can actively support and welcome them.

The Youth Council is also encouraging all citizens to take part in Development and Peace’s petition asking our government to act for peace in Syria through political rather than military means. Every day, people are forced to leave their countries, and as long as political unrest and conflicts persist, more refugees will be displaced across the globe. It is important that we act for change through political engagement and aim to address the root of the cause.

The five years of civil war in Syria has increased the urgency for providing support to refugees, but the ongoing displacement of individuals from across the world is a concern that requires greater attention from our global family. While this dedicated team of youth is hard at work on creating social justice for refugees and acting for peace in Syria, we hope to inspire others to take action. Your actions can make a BIG difference!

THINKfast! An opportunity for youth to engage,
pray, give, and fast during Lent

For many Christians, the liturgical season of Lent is a time to increase three particular practices: praying, fasting, and almsgiving. Developing these practices may not be easy, but a great activity for involving school or parish youth in these “Three Pillars of Lent” is Development and Peace’s THINKfast.

A THINKfast activity lasts for a period of 25 hours in which youth fast, pray, and participate in educational activities that expand their understanding of social justice issues such as hunger and poverty. Since a THINKfast activity is highly flexible, it can be modified according to any specific youth program, group or setting. It’s an experience that can enrich the lives of youth and help them to grow in global awareness, as well as in their own spirituality.

During one of my years as a catechist, I helped to organize a THINKfast in my parish. The coordinator had the great idea of splitting the youth into 3-4 groups to participate in a scavenger hunt with clues. Eventually, the clues would lead only one of the groups to find the prize (soup broth). The winning group would then be given the choice to either share their find with the others (who were also starving!) or to keep it for themselves. A difficult choice that makes one consider the following: how do we share the resources we have when sometimes we ourselves are limited?

Now what does all this have to do with the Three Pillars of Lent?
Prayer – THINKfast has a prayer component. As stated in the Organizer Toolkit, “THINKfast is one way we respond to our call as Christians to be a light to the world and to each other. The suggested prayers and reflections can be used throughout the THINKfast to give participants time to absorb and reflect on the experience and to situate their response to what they are learning in our faith context.” At my parish, we prayed The Stations of the Cross – it was a beautiful moment!
Fasting – What is THINKfast without a fast? Fasting strengthens our spiritual life in many ways and can teach us what others feel when they have little to no food to live on. It is an act of solidarity with those who experience hunger on a regular basis.
Almsgiving – THINKfast also has a fundraising component. The funds collected contribute to Development and Peace’s support of sustainable development and humanitarian aid in poor countries in the Global South. THINKfast is a way to introduce and instill the value of almsgiving beyond this one event, so that students develop in this practice as adults.

THINKfast is truly an opportunity for schools and parishes to engage youth in the Lenten practices of praying, fasting, and almsgiving, while giving them insight into the challenges facing our global community. This program is very flexible and is not limited to the Lenten season. It can be carried out at any time. If you haven’t done one yet, why not plan one soon? I know it will be a valuable and memorable experience not only for the youth, but for all those involved!

For more information, please visit: http://www.devp.org/en/thinkfast.

During Development and Peace’s Share Lent campaign, the Atlantic Provinces were fortunate enough to receive Professor Tor Iorapuu from Nigeria as its solidarity visitor. Professor Iorapuu travelled from diocese to diocese, beginning in St. John’s Newfoundland, heading through Labrador, New Brunswick and PEI before making his arrival in Halifax. Why make such along journey? Because he has an important message to share.

Professor Iorapuu is the Executive Director of the Youth, Adolescence, Reflection and Action Centre (YARAC) in Northern Nigeria. This region is characterized by religious and ethnic tensions and in the time that he was with us, his community was attacked three times. There is so much work to be done and yet, he is already making a difference through YARAC to promote tolerance and democracy in such a way that youth are given a voice. YARAC’s work has helped bring in a democratic regime in Nigeria and has connected Christian and Muslim Youth in the Plateau State through programs such as Soccer for Democracy.

Nigerians love soccer and whenever there is a game on, all attention is given to it. When youth come together for sport, there is an opportunity to teach them through principles that are shared in life. Youth in Halifax got to experience this firsthand, through an interactive presentation with Professor Iorapuu.

We had to set up soccer teams, and pick our positions—but what did each represent? Who represents the goalkeeper, which protects our home and community? Perhaps the mayor, governor or police officers? What about the defenders or forwards? Each player has a specific role to play, as does each of us in society. As we carried on our game, Professor Iorapuu would pause for different teaching moments. For example, when the goalkeeper came out to challenge the opposing forward, a fellow teammate went back to protect the goal. Why did she do that? To protect our own. We all have a shared mission in standing up for what is right and just. When we work together as a team and help each other out, we are better for it.

This was the purpose of his visit and the message he wished to share. We are part of one global community, no matter if we are here in Canada or over in Nigeria. When humanity suffers in one part of the world, it is our responsibility to offer our support. “It isn’t about winning. The ultimate goal is to be satisfied that we did it together.” We should not compete with others, but find a way to work together as a team to make the world a better place. Certainly, sport has always brought people together, and what better way to use the game of soccer to teach our leaders of tomorrow how to create hope for the future.

Solidarity as a group experience

Becoming a socially engaged young adult is not an obvious endeavor. In our world, we can easily become overwhelmed with the issues and many choose to close their eyes or not to look too closely. Fortunately, some choose to go beyond indifference and to engage with social justice, seeking to value the human dignity in all and to hear the cry of the poor. Embarking on this journey can be challenging and disempowering, but if you are able to do it with a group of people who share common values but bring a diversity of point of views it can make all the difference.

In February, young adults from different universities in the region of Ottawa-Gatineau gathered to discuss how they could contribute to the mission of Development and Peace. Each member present at this meeting didn’t know what would come of the gathering but each came with ideas and past experiences. Together, we became the Young Adult Collective (YAC).

It was at this first meeting that the group decided to take action and organize a THINKfast. The idea is to fast for 25 hours as a group while learning more about the injustices and inequalities present in the world, about the work of Development and Peace and the actions we can take in our daily lives. While we were fasting, our families, friends, and co-workers supported us with donations, which will go towards the work of Development and Peace and its partners.

Personally, it was my first time taking part in a THINKfast. During the actual fast I was very comforted by the fact that I was not alone. In some ways, it can be hard to truly understand our solidarity with our partners in the Global South but with the solidarity of the others in the group, you can start to comprehend it.

To celebrate the end of the fast, we went to Dépanneur Sylvestre in Gatineau to eat with a welcoming community. Following the meal, there was a presentation by one of our partners from Colombia, Rosa Emilia Salamanca González. She shared her experiences working on peacebuilding in Colombia through a women’s collective. It was truly wonderful to be able to link our symbolic action with her very concrete and critical work. Also, the ambiance in the Dépanneur Sylvestre felt like we were being welcomed at a family gathering!

Our group may be young, but starting with such a powerful experience has helped us to have a strong connection with each other and with the mission of Development and Peace.

A day in the life of a Youth Ambassador

6 a.m.: The alarm goes off. Too early today! But we have a big day ahead and it’s time to get ready.

7 a.m.: I meet Janelle, the regional animator for Manitoba, at the office and we start loading up our cars full of supplies: banners, game pieces, A/V equipment, a giant tree to hang on the wall, scissors, markers, templates, and about a dozen garbage bags full of blown-up balloons. What a hodgepodge collection of things! They represent a full day of education and games that we’re bringing to a local Catholic school.

8:30 a.m.: Finally, all set up in the school gym, we welcome over 200 students from Kindergarten to Grade Eight to our assembly “Create a Climate of Change.” We introduce the students to Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. They learn about the Global South and some of our partners and are encouraged to “rethink the world.” We have several activities planned that help to drive home some of these messages throughout the day.

9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: This is the best part of the day: breakout sessions! In groups by grade, students come in and Janelle and I facilitate activities found on the Development and Peace activities database. “Needs and Wants” is great for the younger grades to help them learn that they need to share the Earth’s resources fairly – and that means you can’t always have everything you want! “Climate Balloons” is a raucous game that involves the students batting balloons at their classmates, who are inside an enclosure and trying to protect drawings of their homes from being attacked by the balloons. Despite the rowdiness, students love this game that teaches how our actions as Canadians can have serious climate impacts on our neighbours in the Global South. Today, we have every single student in the school cut out a leaf shape from some of our old materials. They write down an action they can take to fight climate change, and put it up on a giant tree mural we’ve taped to the gym wall.

3:30 p.m.: By the end of the day, our climate action tree, all bare and sickly at the outset of the day, has become healthy and covered with leaves. These students pledge to turn off taps and lights, take the bus to school, and recycle: they’ve learned how their actions have an impact on people around the world, and have been empowered to Create a Climate of Change right here at home! Time to pack up all our balloons, debrief with the teachers, and head home after another great day at “the office.”

Interconnected: THINKfast and Development and Peace’s 50th Anniversary

During a THINKfast being done by students at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in North Vancouver, I presented to students the work of Development and Peace and spoke about Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. As I presented the content of the encyclical – the effects of climate change, the pitfalls of consumerism and our duty as Catholics – I wondered how much of it would resonate with a room full of tired, hungry teenagers. I quickly realized that the students, who were answering Francis’ call simply by attending a THINKFast, were more than capable of absorbing and implementing the message of Laudato Si’.

A group of high school students devoting a Friday evening to be in solidarity with the Global South and engage in meaningful face-to-face interaction – this was Laudato Si’ in action. The message of caring for our Common Home was quickly embraced by the students, who displayed an incredible depth of understanding through their thoughtful questions and ideas for making a difference in their own lives, communities and country. When asked what they had learned, one student summarized the content by reminding classmates that what we consume in Canada often has a negative effect on people in poorer countries. That same student approached me at the end of the presentation, asking how she can get more involved with Development and Peace.

Two weeks later, I attended Development and Peace’s 50th Anniversary Mass in downtown Vancouver. Archbishop Michael Miller delivered his homily, urging parishioners to answer the Pope’s call to action: “During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, every one of us is asked to contribute towards a solution which can only be the result of a joint effort,” he said.

The reception that followed Mass was an intergenerational gathering of parishioners sharing stories, enjoying refreshments and admiring the beautiful patches that will eventually grace the Solidarity Quilt. During the reception, I had the privilege of interviewing Sister Margaret, a Development and Peace member since its founding in 1967.

She described how, after watching a video about trade unions in the Global South in the mid-1960s, her life was transformed. She realized for the first time how her lifestyle had the potential to negatively impact others. What did she do about it? She introduced Development and Peace to the school she taught at: St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary! I thought of the young student who had expressed a similar breakthrough during the THINKFast. Thanks to Sister Margaret’s initiative 50 years ago, the students of St. Thomas Aquinas are experiencing revelations of solidarity similar to hers every Lenten season.v

It was a powerful example of how those seemingly small seeds we plant today can one day blossom into great things. A reminder that, just as our lifestyles can have negative consequences, the positive potential of our words, ideas and actions are endless.

The ups and downs of engaging youth

Although I was only employed as a Development and Peace Youth Ambassador for a little over three months, my short time in this role was probably more educational than my entire university career. Half-jokes aside, I find it difficult to imagine a more challenging, yet rewarding process than the first months of my first “real” job. I am constantly amazed at how grassroots work with youth challenges me, and forces me to grow professionally, personally, and considering the Catholic nature of the organization, spiritually.

The past weeks have been filled with frustrations and hard work, but also inspiration and moments of genuine professional growth. I have never been more determined to push harder and to better myself in a role within an organization, and this is surely in part due to the mission of Development and Peace. That is to say, Development and Peace’s overall mission to address the root causes of poverty and strive for justice in the world has made me work as hard as I ever have to become a better employee, a better worker, and a better global citizen.

The frustrations of the job came in laying the groundwork for success. It was my dream to have committed Development and Peace groups on all the campuses in Alberta, and especially in Edmonton. However, this proved to be the most difficult part of the job. Although interest seems to be there, the next step of getting like-minded individuals committed to real social justice change to physical meet, has yet to take place. I am optimistic that interest translates into something real and physical, and this will only come through hard work and determination.

It hasn’t been all bad, though. My time giving presentations in high schools and junior high schools has been tremendously inspiring. Seeing firsthand how the goals of Development and Peace fit hand in hand with how young people want to see their future world encourages me to work harder, and advocate for more change. In fact, recently, I was at a café, where a young person stopped me and said, “You came to my school the other day. I really liked what you had to say.” Perhaps this is the most meaningful thing someone has said to me, because it means at least one person heard what Development and Peace is all about, and maybe wants to see the world become a little more just.

Answering the call to duty towards community and the world

It was an absolute pleasure working as a Youth Ambassador for Development and Peace. It was a great opportunity to be able to present social justice issues to other youth and give them a platform to share, discuss and put their thoughts into action. Programs like THINKfast definitely help to do this and should always be promoted and supported for this reason. Development and Peace is made up of dedicated members and staff that are the reason behind the excellent work the organization carries out!

Working for a faith-based organization that focuses on social justice issues has really reminded me of my duty towards my own community and the world. We all carry a responsibility towards the wellbeing of each other and must never forget this!