This story was originally posted on Passport 2017.
Between a nautical blowout in Quebec City, an immersive travelling film experience, a nationwide symphonic collaboration and a year-long science fest, Canada is pulling out all the stops for its sesquicentennial celebrations. But there is one more Signature Initiative to round out the 2017 lineup: a youth summit. Okay, so it may not have as much curbside appeal as its counterparts, but it’s likely to have the greatest impact. With Canada 150 & Me, hundreds of students between the ages of 14 and 19 will be sent to five locations across the country over the course of an eight-week exchange, where they’ll have chances to delve into the issues they’re most passionate about.
“We wanted to start a national conversation with youth,” says Deborah Morrison, president and CEO of Experiences Canada, the organization behind the initiative. “Even though the 150th anniversary is an opportunity to mark the past, it’s also a chance to start looking to the future.” Applications are open now on the Experiences Canada website. Aspiring participants must answer this question: “What is Canada’s greatest challenge or opportunity facing your generation?” Responses aren’t limited to formal essays—teens can submit artworks, original songs, or creative works in any medium they choose. Interpretive breakdance routine? Sure thing: just pop, lock and send in a video.
From environmental issues to human rights, kids can apply to the program that best fits their interests. If chosen, they will head to a youth forum in one of four destinations during April and May. So far, Halifax’s Discovery Centre and Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights have signed on to host two of these regional assemblies, with two more locations still up for grabs. Within this first round, students will have opportunities to build leadership experience, work with NGOs active in the field—like Habitat for Humanity, another partnering organization—and, perhaps most importantly, connect with other like-minded young activists. “We’re hoping to create amongst them new networks that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives, to create more engaged and active citizens to make sure these issues are addressed,” says Morrison.
From those lucky students selected for the regional exchanges, a select group of 150 will be chosen to attend a culminating, one-week national youth forum in Ottawa. During Canada Day celebrations, they’ll present their findings to an audience of government, business and community leaders. “We hope that will give them the confidence to take action and to see that they already are the leaders we need them to be,” says Morrison.