As Canada celebrates 145 years since Confederation the time is ripe to acknowledge our achievements, to reflect on the state of our society and to consider what it means to be Canadian. For many Canada is a caring country, a place where people traditionally embrace multiculturalism, aspire to be inclusive, and maintain a humanitarian spirit. As a result, Canada is a place where people give. This is supported by information compiled by Statistics Canada which notes that 84% of Canadians over the age of 15 donated to a charitable and nonprofit organization in 2010 totaling over $10.6 billion. When we look also to volunteerism, 47% of Canadians volunteered over 156 hours of their time in 2010 to a charity or a charitable cause, which is worth approximately $2.1 billion in economic terms. This is just incredible for a country of just over 30 million people and something that we should be proud of and celebrate.
The notion of philanthropy, which I consider to encompass both charitable giving and volunteerism, is something that I think is engrained in the Canadian social fabric. The way our governmental system is structured and the values that it is based upon are about improving lives and promoting equal access to opportunity. We have universal healthcare, a pension plan for everyone, and free primary and secondary education. I acknowledge there are flaws in each of these and they could be better but the point remains, we have them. These demonstrate an inherent giving spirit that Canadian’s maintain; a principled belief that we should all contribute to making each others lives better. That said the notion of philanthropy is something that Canadians should constantly reflect upon.
Canada has much to be proud of in this respect but it is interesting to note that not much has changed in terms of philanthropic percentages since 2004, in fact they are less. In 2004, 85% of Canadians donated and volunteered an average of 168 hours of their time. The changes aren’t huge or significant, no need for alarm bells but they are less then they were in 2004. So on this day of our confederation it’s necessary for us to consider what we can do to make a difference and to reinforce an integral Canadian trait – giving.
To get us thinking in this vein, I want to highlight a really worthy program that Canadians of all walks should consider engaging with as it really connects into the values that our society is based upon.
The Student Refugee Program
The Student Refugee Program run by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) represents Canadian values of inclusiveness, multiculturalism and humanitarianism.
Established in 1978 with the aim of providing refugees the opportunity to pursue post secondary education in Canada, the Student Refugee Program (SRP) has helped over 1000 refugees in attaining an education and a home where they are safe and free.
The SRP is the only program in Canada that links resettlement with post-secondary/tertiary education. This results in refugees coming to Canada where they develop skills and make incredible contributions to Canada and to their home countries.
I think it goes without saying how life changing the opportunity to leave the refugee camp and to pursue post-secondary education can be. Just think about it – typically, refugee camps house hundreds of thousands of people that are confined to a small space with little education, little access to opportunity, reliant on UN food programmes. In effect they are cities of displaced peoples who have had to flee their homeland because they and their families were/are under threat. Refugee camps are desolate places at the best of times. Besides physical security there is really not much else going on. Anyone who has visited a refugee camp or has met a refugee can attest that these living conditions are bleak.
The SRP provides hope to youth in refugee camps.
This is why the work of WUSC is so important. It is changing the context for a marginalized group of people that want to contribute to society and have the opportunity to be successful. WUSC works in refugee camps in Kenya, Malawi and Thailand providing basic education with the potential for students to get the opportunity to live and attend university or college in Canada.
Typically 87% of the funds needed to support a student refugee are raised by Canadian students working on WUSC local committees. These committees are located at Canadian university and college campuses and act as important hubs for promoting philanthropy as well as engagement in international development.
But more needs to be done to make the program sustainable. WUSC needs our support.
So as Canada Day winds down let us reflect on what it is to be Canadian. My Canada is inclusive, multicultural and humane. It is about caring and providing access to opportunities to people who have few options. It is about offering hope and a chance to make a better life…in a precise way, it is about supporting student refugees.
How about yours?