21 February 2007
by Carol Goar
Roughly 75,000 Canadians have been overseas as volunteers. They range in age from their 20s to their 80s. They can be found in executive suites, farm fields, operating rooms, lecture halls, Parliament and suburban kitchens.
Almost invariably, these volunteers returned from the field eager to talk about what they had learned, driven to help the people they had met, acutely aware of their good fortune and the need to share it.
But there was no outlet for their passion. The people who had shared their experience were scattered across the country. The agencies that had sent them overseas weren't equipped to use their talents at home. Their friends listened to their stories and responded to their enthusiasm for a while, then lost interest.They settled into good jobs and productive lives.
Now a coalition of international service organizations is calling on them to volunteer again – not to go back to Africa or Asia or Latin America, but to become the vanguard of a new movement called Global Citizens for Change.
"We know that people who have gone overseas see the world differently and want to do something," said Karen Takacs, executive director of Canadian Crossroads International, which is spearheading the initiative. "We're asking them to be catalysts in their communities, to talk about the importance of global poverty and mobilize others.
"We know Canadians care, but our politicians don't seem to think so."
Anyone – regardless of background or experience – can join Global Citizens for Change. But the founders are approaching former overseas volunteers first because so many have expressed an interest in staying active.
The project is still in its early stages. It was launched in December, after a test run in 12 communities. The response confirmed what Takacs and her colleagues intuitively knew. Canadians, especially those who travelled or served abroad, wanted to do something about the staggering inequities in the world. But they felt helpless, overwhelmed and isolated. So the coalition set about developing tools that citizens could use to convert their concern into action.
It produced fact sheets on extreme poverty, the AIDS crisis, the commitments Canada has made to the world's poorest people and its actual performance. It drew up a directory of national and international groups leading the fight for hunger eradication, fairer trading rules, a more equitable distribution of global wealth and a more sustainable way of life. It drafted pointers on how to lobby an MP, write a newspaper article, organize a local discussion group or volunteer for overseas service.
Finally, a website (www.globalcitizensforchange.ca) was rolled out, marking the formal kickoff of the campaign.