In recognition of the burgeoning volunteer sector among youth, 12 young Quebecers, 8 to 17, received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award March 23, given since 1985 to exceptional effort in volunteering to help others and building “a smarter and more caring nation.”
Jasmine Gadbois, 8, and big sister Sophia, 10, students at École Rudolf Steiner in Notre Dame de Grâce, heard about Free the Children from their mom, and first helped clean up garbage from the riverside in Verdun. This summer, they ventured to the Amazon area of Ecuador to “help build a school.”
“We put in some nails,” said Sophia. Jasmine really liked her first WE Day, because, “it makes me think, if I was poor, other kids would take care of me, and that’s what I like to do for other kids.”
Adam Rozon, 14, a grade 9 student at Académie Lafontaine in St. Jérome, helped organize a solidarity march and collect funds for some 100 homeless in the city. He also set up a Fair Trade Sale at the school in cooperation with Oxfam.
“I worked all last year to set this up and we’re selling coffee and chocolate this year, to help African farmers,” he said, with obvious pride.
Simon Goyetche, 11, a grade 6 student at St. Jude Elementary in Two Mountains, was inspired by a YouTube pep talk and created Sock’tober, asking schoolmates for donations of socks for the homeless.
“We donated just over 300 pairs of socks to Dans la Rue. There are people who are less fortunate than us, and in the harsh winters that we have here they need protection.”
Isabel Szollosy, 13, in grade 7 at Beaconsfield High, and her sister Jane, 11, in grade 6 at Dorset Elementary in Baie d’Urfé, collected 30,000 aluminum cans over the past year, worth $1,500, and sold dishcloths for $4 each, raised over $10,000, and turned over the money to help feed impoverished Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
“Our biggest project is to raise $75 for the most impoverished students attending Collège Amélioration Jeunesse (in Puerto Plata) to attend summer camp,” Isabel explained.
“It’s not really a school, it’s a three-bedroom apartment during the day, for 184 students,” Isabel said. The family visited the camp last summer and spent two weeks with the children, teaching English and sharing in “fun activities – a life-changing and family-changing experience,” said their mom, Rhiannon Sparkes of Notre Dame de l’Île Perrot.
Léa Simic-Lachapelle, 16, in grade 11 at Collège Mont Notre Dame, Sherbrooke, took part in various fund-raising efforts and helped organize support for the release of Raïf Badawy, whose wife lives in Sherbrooke, as part of the Amnesty International campaign. Badawy is the Saudi Arabian blogger who’s been sentenced to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.
“Everyone should have the right to education, and a lot of kids around the world don’t. Raising the money to build this school really touched me.” – Kayla Panacui
Olivia Page, 17, also at Collège Mont Notre-Dame, worked with Amnesty International to support Badawy. She teaches Sunday School at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in North Hatley, and for over two years has helped collect 160 shoe boxes that donors fill with items that children need, in a project called Samaritan’s Purse.
Romy Suliteanu, 17, in grade 11 at St. George’s School, raised funds with others for scholarships to enable students to study at the Sheela Bal Bhavan girl’s school in Jaipur, India. Last year, she participated with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation to help clean up a school, build a house for a poor family, and clean up beaches. She plans on studying to become a psychiatrist.
“If I was poor, other kids would take care of me, and that’s what I like to do for other kids.” – Jasmine Gadbois
Courtney Murdoch, 16, in grade 11 at Laurentian Regional High in Lachute, started her own campaign “to erase stigma regarding mental-health issues.” Diagnosed in grade 10 with acute anxiety, she “got labeled because people don’t understand what mental health is.” After attending Take Action Camp sponsored by Free the Children, Courtney decided to make people understand: “We aren’t weak, we’re so powerful we’ve overcome so much to still be around.” She collected money for a turkey dinner for the town’s women’s shelter, and organized a scavenger hunt for necessities to give to the shelter. She and her friends helped organize and participated in a 24-hour fast at school, which raised over $3,000 for a village in Kenya. The goal is to help the village become sustainable.
Cassandra Gillen, 12, in grade 6 at St. John Fisher School in Pointe Claire, has been doing volunteer work for more than half her life, and at school raised enough money for surgery on two children needing to correct cleft palates. This year she’s working to raise $10,000 to build a school in rural Kenya. She’s already raised $1,020 by cashing in bottles and cans and from assorted donations. At the age of five, Cassandra gave her birthday money to help her cousin Tova, who needed surgery for cancer.