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Olympic kayaker Adam Van Koeverden and his mother, Beata Bokrossy, in 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Olympic kayaker Adam Van Koeverden and his mother, Beata Bokrossy, in 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Adam van Koeverden

Katimavik is worth saving Add to ...

I owe a lot – my very existence, actually – to Katimavik’s power to bring people together. My parents went to the same university at the same time, but didn’t meet until both, after graduating, went to work as group leaders with a new youth initiative called Katimavik.

It was 1977, and they attended a Katimavik orientation in Lac St. Joseph, Que., where they met briefly. My mom went off to Baie-Comeau, Que., and then Yellowknife; my dad went to work in Arundel, near Mont Tremblant. They worked for Katimavik on and off for five years, got married and had me. I’m told that makes me a “Katimababy.”

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My mom told me Katimavik means “meeting place” in Inuktitut, and that she worked there, with kids, way up North after university. So my mom and dad met at “meeting place.” The serendipity was lost on me at the time, but my parents didn’t just find each other in the program, they started on a journey to find themselves, too.

I read last week that as government-funded youth initiatives go, Katimavik is too costly, that it’s not worth saving. I spent a few hours on the phone with my parents as they recounted their experiences there. My mom remembered the short Yellowknife days, and how she felt safer with a 12-year-old Inuit boy in the woods while playing a survival game, than she could ever imagine feeling with any city adult in the same situation. Mom, who has spent the past 20 years as a community co-ordinator in the non-profit housing industry, says she learned as much from those kids as she taught them.

My dad remembered being thrown headfirst into a leadership role in Arundel and realizing his potential as a manager straight away. He’s had a variety of careers since managing Katimavik’s Ontario operations: teaching management classes, aboriginal business development in Ontario, the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation, manager of Ontario’s Tourism Education Council.

Young people today are facing a crisis of relevance. It’s not obvious to every kid where they’ll fit and what they have to offer society. Katimavik’s empowering work, its structured and meaningful activities, have provided more than 30,000 Canadians with the understanding that fulfilment doesn’t come from what we “want to have” but from what we “have to give.”

More than 1,000 Canadian kids who had signed up to work with Katimavik were slated to leave this July. More than 50 communities, some desperate for this kind of help, had work plans for them. Katimavik wasn’t phased out, it was cancelled. Abruptly. At the expense of Canadian youth and the communities they were preparing to serve.

Katimavik’s value is found in purposefully engaged youth serving our communities. That seems like well-spent money to me. A 2009-10 government study found Katimavik’s objectives “support and mirror the government’s priorities” and offered suggestions to increase efficiency and decrease the cost per participant. Katimavik’s reviews were glowing, never once was it suggested that it is worth scrapping.

A good government’s first priority should be the same as Katimavik’s first priority: service. Tossing Katimavik down the drain had nothing to do with service. In fact, the decision represents a neglect of the government’s duty to serve our communities, the youth who live there, and the young people anxious to travel to them to work, learn and serve.

When will politics in this country be devoted to service, instead of just, well, politics?

Adam van Koeverden is an Olympic champion kayaker.

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