For Christine French, one of the highlights of her year-long volunteer placement with the Kingston YMCA in Jamaica was watching the transformation of street kids growing into young men eager to learn.
Christine just recently completed her volunteer stint through Cuso International and plans to return to the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, where she works as Senior Manager of Sustainability Initiatives. Christine was able to take a leave of absence from her work to do the volunteer placement thanks to a unique partnership between Cuso International and the Government of British Columbia.
She credits her director, Bernie Gaudet, and her colleagues for supporting her in taking the placement and helping to ensure her departure caused minimal impact to the team’s overall performance.
“People from my work donated to my fundraising and sent encouraging emails throughout the year. I’m grateful for the support I received, individually and corporately,” she said. “Knowing my employer supported me to do this, it was especially important to me that the work I was asked to do in Jamaica was accomplished. This wasn’t a vacation or a cultural exchange for me; it was very important that I make a meaningful contribution.”
Her responsibilities in Jamaica involved developing a strategic plan that included sustainability planning for the Kingston YMCA and the programs it offers, including the remedial school the organization runs for at-risk boys aged 12-16. Over the years, this Youth Development Program, which offers literacy, numeracy and life skills training for vulnerable youth has been tremendously successful, with many of its participants landing work as barbers, welders, and businessmen – one has even gone on to become a doctor.
While she was in Jamaica, Cuso International provided funding so that Christine could implement a week-long summer camp for students of the YMCA’s Youth Development Program, where students were given hands-on training in renewable energy and robotics. “It was amazing to watch the boys thrive once they had individual attention from their teachers, food in their bellies and fresh, cold water when they were thirsty,” said Christine. “In just five days, they were completely different young people. I felt very inspired and honoured to be a part of their learning experience.”
With her detailed strategy for the Kingston YMCA approved just one week before her placement ended, Christine says her placement was a success. “Volunteering with Cuso International is a very reasonable option for most people, particularly public servants. It is, absolutely, without question, a worthwhile experience,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s incredibly impactful.”
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