To mark International Volunteer Day on December 5th, 2013 ACIC staff attended a reception hosted by The Honourable Labi Kousoulis, Minister of the Voluntary Sector, at Province House in Halifax. Taylor Quinn, one of ACIC’s 2013 youth ambassadors, spoke about the role and contribution of volunteers, particularly youth, in our global community.
Please take a few minutes and read Taylor's speech below:
First, I would like to thank Minister Kousoulis and the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (the ACIC), for the opportunity to speak at today’s event. I am honored to be here as a youth volunteer and to have the opportunity to share a piece of my story with all of you, and am hugely grateful for all the incredible support and opportunities I have received from organizations like the ACIC, Feed Nova Scotia, the Dalhousie Student Union, and others, especially as someone who came from “away” to find a home here in Nova Scotia.
I was active as a child, playing a range of sports and being involved in my school and local community in small ways, but I would not have called myself a ‘volunteer.’
All of that changed on October 20th, 2009 when I was in grade 11. I was at a youth enrichment program in Ottawa called Encounters with Canada, and on that Tuesday night, I heard a presentation from two volunteers discussing the issue of child soldiers, and how children are used as weapons of modern day war. I was shocked to hear that kids no different from myself are kidnapped and coerced into fighting in some of the world’s bloodiest wars. That night, I stayed up late with a few friends and talked about how we could educate others in our home communities about this issue. So I did what any other Millennial would do, I made a short video and put it on Youtube. When I returned to North Vancouver, I went into my Principal’s Office at my high school to attempt to convince her to allow me to show my 2-minute video during our school’s Remembrance Day Assembly. She said no, she wasn’t interested, it couldn’t happen. I was shocked, as I assumed that when others heard about the issue of child soldiers, they would join me in my mini-movement to raise awareness about it. A few days later, I went back to her office, and once again, she said no. For two weeks, I garnered support from a couple teachers and students, and every day I went into her office, trying to rework my pitch each time, and eventually, I had interrupted her so many times that she finally said, “Ok, you can show your video while everyone files into the gym.” For anyone who has ever been in high school, you would know that teenagers usually don’t pay attention to anything but their friends when walking into and settling down in an assembly, but I could show my video, and that’s all that mattered.
Much to my Principal’s shock, my terribly made but impactful two-minute video resonated with both students and teachers, and before I knew it, I had started a school club that had to host our meetings in that same school gym, as we would have over 100 students and teachers come to our weekly meetings. I got my start late, but I went from not volunteering at all to having the word ‘volunteer’ define everything I did. My passion for the eradication of child soldiers took me to schools, churches, leadership conferences, speaking about the issue and trying to inspire others with my story and the idea that “Where you live should not determine whether you live.” That passion became a life spent always busy, when not in school working part-time jobs so I could spend my summers volunteering, whether in Canada or abroad. That passion for volunteering has taken me to East Africa three times, and allowed me to became a mentor for other young people who are simply looking for someone to say “Yes” to their passion, give them that validation to do not be ordinary, but to do something extraordinary.
A sense of community and a strong culture of volunteering was what pulled me to Halifax and to Dalhousie University, and I plan to stay in Nova Scotia and further immerse myself in the community for years to come. My role as a volunteer has taken me from conversations with Prince William and his wife Katherine to the most incredible hospitality I will ever experience in rural Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. It’s not those moments, but the daily inspiration I get from the community of young people I am lucky enough to know who pride themselves on their commitment to the betterment of the community. My experience as a local and international volunteer has taught me just how many incredible young people there are around the world working towards change, and especially in this province.
Last week, I stood in a suite of boxes and supplies at the top of the Metro Centre, a volunteer at Free the Children’s first Atlantic Canada We Day. I looked down at a bright, cheering sea of over 10,000 young people who are the future of our region. They are at a time in their life when they believe change is possible, that poverty is solvable, that human development is much more important than economic development. Now, these kids are idealists, sure, but the thing is, their dreams are feasible, those things are possible.
I lead my life by a quote by author Robin Wizowaty, “Opportunity isn’t a chance; it’s a choice. And it’s the choices we make that define the paths our lives will take.” “Opportunity isn’t a chance; it’s a choice.” Therefore, I am taking this opportunity today to fulfill my responsibility as a global citizen, and to do my best to speak on behalf of those 10,000 youth at the Metro Centre and the many more working in Nova Scotia to make this world a better place.
We are at an exciting moment in Nova Scotia, with a new government comes exciting possibilities for the years ahead. I hope that the people with power in our province support those idealistic youth, and are willing to go beyond the status quo to make our province a model of what is really possible when the importance of volunteering and global citizenship is not simply an ideal, but a way of thinking, a way of acting. Whether it is making education more affordable by reducing tuition fees, so young people have the opportunity to volunteer and not spend all their time attempting to save up for post-secondary education, or investing in the idea of social enterprise that is already causing ripples of change all across this province, let’s not let those 10,000 plus young people down. Because if we do, just like I did those four years ago in my principal’s office, those young people will speak louder, become more unified, and not stop until global citizenship is a priority of the province.