This year, instead of pancake breakfasts, parades and fireworks, I celebrated Canada Day by giving out maple leaf pins and pens (donated by the High Commission) to YMCA volunteers, after which I returned to a courtyard full of at-risk youth who found focus, teamwork and confidence in themselves thanks to a robotics camp funded entirely by my country’s government.
Jamaicans love Canada, and it is no surprise why. On top of the generous international development support our government provides, nearly 200,000 Jamaicans choose Canada as their home away from home, tolerating our miserable cold for what they believe will be a better life. For the average Jamaican, “Canada” equals opportunity, potential, and hope.
Canadians with their eyes open know this perception of Canada is only part of the story. Our nation’s struggles with racism and poverty are, in many ways, no better than those I have travelled halfway around the world to help address. National pride is harder to practice when I think about ‘our home *on* native land’ and the shameful conditions we let our neighbours live in. “Opportunity”, “potential” and “hope” are not everyone’s Canadian experience.
As an international development volunteer, it gives me pause to consider all that could be done to help my fellow Canadians. However, I am comforted by the fact that Cuso International recognizes we have work to do within our own borders if we want to be credible outside of them. Cuso has partnerships with the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc., Reconciliation Canada, the First Nations Health Authority, the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, the Beaufort-Delta Education Council and the South Slave Divisional Education Council. Each of these placements is approached in the same way as international placements, matching highly skilled volunteers with local partners who, together, work on specific projects that are designed to help communities thrive and grow.
There is always more to be done, both at home and around the world, but today is a day when Canadians celebrate those things that everyone else admires about us. I’m incredibly proud to be from a country that models a spirit of benevolence and welcome other countries aspire to. We may not always get it right, but when we do, our mosaic sparkles.