In 1977, an organization was founded to provide volunteer service opportunities for Canada’s youth. In its 35 years, Katimavik, which in Inuktitut means ‘meeting place,’ has since had tens of thousands of volunteers and participants that have contributed to many services and initiatives across the country.
Katimavik has brought students together, working to positively impact communities and youth, to preserve cultural diversity and to work with many charitable and non-profit organizations.
Many Canadians believe that Katimavik bettered the lives of the many people the program brought together.
“Katimavik changed my life, and I believe it’s worthwhile and anyone who gets involved can greatly benefit,” said second-year University of Calgary history student and Katimavik alumnus Joshua Corcoran. “It’s a good program because it obviously teaches youth many different life skills and is a chance to learn and grow.”
Aimed at individuals 17 to 21, Katimavik sent participants across the country, living and learning in small groups, to work on many projects and improve leadership skills.
“It exposes youth to regional differences and cultural differences throughout Canada. [Volunteers] live in groups of 11 people from different parts of the country in one house, and they all had full-time volunteer positions at community organizations and charities,” said Corcoran.
However, on March 29, 2012, the Conservative government cut Katimavik’s federal funding, which was more than $15 million yearly, leaving the program struggling to continue its efforts.
Corcoran said over 600 participants were supposed to go on rotation last July, but were unable to because of the cuts.
According to the 2012–13 Government of Canada budget, the funding was cut due to high costs of the program per participant.
“The government will eliminate the Katimavik program. Our government is committed to giving our young people the opportunities they deserve, and we will achieve that by funding programs that benefit large numbers of young people at a reasonable cost rather than concentrating available funding on a very small number of participants at an excessive per-person cost. Our government is proud to continue to invest in affordable, effective programming that engages youth,” according to the budget plan.
This funding cut has sparked protests across the country, with students, participants and alumni rallying to get Katimavik off the ground again. Independent groups and websites, such as SavingKatimavik.com, have been set up to gather donations, and a petition has been circling the country since March.
“What we want to do is try and prove to the government that Katimavik is worthwhile and it makes a difference in the lives of the people that are involved,” said Corcoran.
Corcoran said it is still unclear why the government decided to cut funding. He said it is very important for citizens to have a voice and be able to speak to the government.
“Living in a democracy, we have the right to stand up to the government and say, ‘We don’t like what you’re doing,’ ” he said. “We need to talk to the government and find out why they cut it, because that has not been clear.”
He said the importance of youth programs like Katimavik need to be recognized.
“These types of programs are important because they give anyone a chance to get out and experience the country and help many people,” said Corcoran. “Anyone can make a difference and we need help to get the funding back and to get Katimavik back to where it was.”
According to Katimavik’s director of marketing and communication Victoria Salvador, the funding cut was a big surprise.
“We had no heads up and we weren’t expecting this at all considering that Katimavik had a signed agreement with the government until March 2013,” said Salvador.
She said the 600 participants that were supposed to leave last summer were counting on the program, and the opportunity was taken from them.
“Not only was the opportunity taken from these participants, but it was also taken from our partner organizations that were counting on full-time support from Katimavik youth,” she said. “That put about 500 community partners in quite the position. They were expecting staff and help but were left out in the cold.”
However, Salvador said that even though funding is no longer available, Katimavik will still be running.
“Because the government has cut the funding to Katimavik does not mean it disappears. It is quite the blow though because that was $15 million which we will not be able to recuperate from the public or private funding in such a short time,” said Salvador. “We are working very hard to find the funding.”
Salvador said before the cut, the program was looking forward to diversify the sources of funding so they could help more Canadians and more organizations. Now, Katimavik’s main goal is to maintain operations.
According to Salvador, the many independent groups trying to raise money and lobby the government to regain funding are very beneficial to Katimavik’s cause. She said the government needs to know their decision was wrong, and these initiatives will give Katimavik more visibility.
“Katimavik is not behind these groups, and that is what is so amazing,” said Salvador. “The amount of support is going a long way. Even today in September, the field is still mobilizing and our stakeholders are still working hard to get the word out for Katimavik.”
The Department of Canadian Heritage, the government group responsible for developing national policies promoting Canadian history and life, will continue to give over $100 million in funding to youth programs. However, for the time being, Katimavik will have to find other ways to continue.