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I have hope that stems in large part from my knowledge that the future of this planet lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of young people around the world. I have often said that every individual counts, every individual has a role to play, and every individual makes a difference. Global Youth Service Day proves it. Let us support this opportunity to move forward with hope — with faith in ourselves and in our intellect. And let's celebrate the indomitable spirit of youth.
—Jane Goodall, Founder, The Jane Goodall Institute
This month, volunteerism is recognized across Canada and around the globe. Yet, as the 7th Annual Global Youth Service Day (April 21-23, depending on your region) approaches, I find myself wondering whether this global event has been adequately recognized for the deeper message that it is intended to convey.
Global Youth Service Day is the largest annual celebration of young volunteers in the world. On this day for the past seven years, young people in countries worldwide have highlighted and carried out thousands of community improvement projects. Last year, Canadian youth amassed an outstanding 85,000 youth volunteer hours to commemorate its six-year anniversary. While I applaud these efforts and commend the United Nations' support of this day of service, I regret that too often GYSD becomes a focus of a type of media attention that publicizes the number of volunteer hours youth have dedicated on this particular day instead of the concept of service that underlies the event. GYSD is meant not only to applaud the yearlong efforts of youth volunteers, but to foster prolonged volunteerism among youth. The GYSD website, unlike the typical media coverage, describes the potential of the day as follows:
GYSD offers a way for local, national, and international organizations to:
BUILD the capacity of an international network of organizations that promotes youth participation, service and learning;
EDUCATE the public, the media and policy-makers about the year-round contributions of young people as community leaders around the world;
MOBILIZE youth and adults to meet the needs of their communities through volunteering; and
LEARN and share effective practices in youth service, youth voice and civic engagement in the world today.
The website also provides a helpful section titled "After Global Youth Service Day," which includes tips for fostering continued service. This year, it is my sincere hope that both the media and the general public recognize that GYSD is an isolated celebration of a potentially ongoing commitment.
During my four years at McGill University, it has been my privilege to work alongside many passionate student volunteers. As I approach graduation, I would like to openly congratulate them on the depth and scope of their dedication. That cannot be reduced to a day of recognition in April, but certainly deserves to be celebrated.
Melissa Ann Gaul is a U4 honours student in English literature at McGill. She has worked with various campus organizations, including McGill's Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and was was recently appointed to Habitat for Humanity Canada's National Youth Council.