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Youth Challenge International


Youth Challenge International designs global development solutions that create the conditions for youth to thrive and prosper. YCI’s programs use creative approaches to equip young people with the tools, experience, knowledge and networks to build sustainable livelihoods. YCI’s projects are currently located in Africa, South America and Asia.


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Yes, I recommend this program

I went to Koforidua on a youth entrepreneurship project in summer 2014. Together with two other partners, we designed and implemented workshops on topics including business opportunity identification, business plan writing, entrepreneurial concepts, CV writing and source of financing for the local youth who were interested to start their own small businesses.

During our work, we found the local youth can be shy, yet love to share when the ice broke. We loved the interactive workshops that we had with them, regardless of the number of attendants we had. Sometimes we are frustrated, as the locals do not prefer to come out after a rainfall, yet sometimes we got more surprises from the people who showed up. In addition, Ghanaians are very polite people, highly religious and honourable. Our home stay mom was on top of that. She treated us as her own children and made us a home in Ghana.

Our group had an eventful project yet through the interaction with YCI, we realized that they are taking very good care of us, both in normal or emergent situations. This is what we appreciate the most for. And one key point that I would recommend for people to join YCI's program.

Throughout the project, volunteers were able to develop the capabilities in terms of teamwork, leadership and public speaking skills, adding the professional knowledge related to the project goal. Also, we get a taste of living in an entirely different environment which can be challenging. It changes people positively as long as there is eagerness to open oneself up to this world. And there is way to learn!

What would you improve about this program?
I am impressed with the information that YCI organized and delivered for the project participants' learning and reference. To go further, I would prefer that in addition to the paper materials, alternative methods can be added to the pre-learning session. For example, in the pre-learning session, YCI can put the participants in the scenario which they would most likely encounter in the local community, for example in a role play, and deliver the mock experience to them. Moreover, and integrated learning sessions can be held in the team context so the group can know one another better before going into a challenging changing environment. If the team works well, it would certainly enhance the quality of work in the project.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I stayed in Zanzibar through YCI for three months and had an amazing experience. While there, I volunteered through a local organization, providing business training to men at a drug recovery centre and providing civic education workshops for young people. I was provided my own laptop and each workday I had an office I could work at. I was also free to work from home or work from a restaurant as desired.

I felt very well supported by YCI the entire time. My homestay was excellent. Their home was very nice and they were very kind and spoke perfectly fluent English. I was well looked after and always felt safe. The local YCI office was so helpful, explaining the local context to make my work more relevant and setting up meeting. They also helped me with personal issues, whether stitching up my broken sandals or helping me buy groceries from a local market. One of the local YCI volunteers would show me the sites on the weekends and some nights I would join him to teach kids English. It really added to my experience. I also knew I had the YCI office in Canada and they were very responsive as well.

Zanzibar itself is beautiful. The people there live a modest, traditional lifestyle and are very kind. I felt very safe at all times and regularly rode on public transit. I joined teenagers playing soccer. I felt very welcomed. There is so much stuff to do in Zanzibar, beaches, tourist attractions, restaurants and local people are always willing to get to know you.

I strongly recommend making a trip like this and think YCI is a great way to go. The North American staff and the local staff where you travel are all very compassionate and enthusiastic about what they do.

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Yes, I recommend this program

I was stationed in Arusha with YCI and had one of the greatest experiences of my life. YCI is an awesome program that is designed for people who want to make an impact and develop as a human being. My experience with YCI is truly one I will never forget.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Your volunteer experience will open your eyes to an entirely different world and your enjoyment depends on how you handle it. Our situation was a unique in that we were working on a pilot project with a lot of ambiguity. YCI did a good job of giving us everything we needed to work with but it was up to us to decide the best methods for our project. This freedom has pros and cons.. pro: ability to make local adaptations, change easily, huge sense of accomplishment and cons: lots of ambiguity, increased responsibility to not only teach the lesson plans but create them. Would recommend to anyone who is willing to put in the work it takes to create something meaningful. :)

What would you improve about this program?
Location was somewhat isolated, would have benefited from being around other volunteers from a social perspective.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I had always wanted to volunteer internationally and in 2010 the opportunity came up when Youth Challenge International had 20 scholarships for its 20th anniversary. I was one of the first non-Canadian volunteers on the program and since I was born in Guyana and lived in the Caribbean, I ruled out Guyana and Costa Rica and applied for a one month program in Ghana instead. While the scholarship covered some of my costs, I still had to fund raise which is a critical component of the YCI program and it allowed me to be creative with my efforts (dog sitting, baby sitting etc.). I also like the online program and support where I was able to share with other volunteers how we were preparing for this adventure.

Once in Ghana we had in country orientation and debriefs and we always had the support of the Country Program Manager. I must admit it was a bit overwhelming at first, new environment, new skills being developed but sometimes you do need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to grow and become a better person.

The one difficulty I encountered was a short bout of a bad reaction to some food but that was over and done with in 24 hours.

I was able to work with my peers to develop and deliver training programs in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Active Citizenship and much more.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Angela Mak

Angela Mak volunteered with Youth Challenge International in Guyana November 2011. Born in Ottawa, Canada, she attended the University of Toronto, Universtiet Mastricht, and Ryerson University. She currently works for Me to We, Free the Children’s best friend. She loves to travel to meet new people and gain new experiences, but mostly to try new foods!

Day in the Life of Angela Mak - Volunteer in Guyana

Morning: I wake up sweating. The temperature here is about 43°C, all year round. Due to the heat, most Guyanese people shower twice a day. I shower morning and night. I am lucky that St. Cuthbert’s has running water. Though some people have a shower, I do not and as such I have mastered the art of bucket showering! First, I wash my face, then I dip a small container into the water bucket and pour the water over my head. I do this twice. Then I lather up my hair and body, dip and pour, dip and pour, dip and pour. This was especially surprising to me!

My expectations prior to my trip were not high in terms of development standards but I live in a concrete house and many of the villagers also live in small concrete houses or houses built out of wood on stilts to evade flooding. Floods happen from time to time during the rainy season and thunderstorms happen 2-3 times a day! Here, you can actually see and hear the rain coming. I’ve watched people literally run from the rain.

Afternoon: The men in this village work in lumber or in mining while the women stay home and look after the children. Children go to school from nursery to Grade 11 and classes run from 8:30am-2:30pm. The two biggest challenges St. Cuthbert’s Mission faces are literacy and sanitation. As such, my volunteer partner and I teach literacy at the schools from Grades 1-11 and work with the locals developing sanitation workshops and drainage projects.

After a lesson on university and job prospects, a twelve-year-old girl, Orliza approached me to ask if I would tutor her because she wanted to go to university. I was deeply touched and began to see her 3 times a week for an hour and half where we would cover all subjects! Her eagerness to learn inspired me and motivated me as I saw the impact of my volunteer efforts. I spent my afternoons happily teaching all subjects.

Evening: In addition we have some side projects which include entrepreneurship, computer education, and health and fitness workshops. My day usually starts ends at around 11pm and no matter what time of day, there are always kids around!

Working with Youth Challenge International means that you are very busy. My volunteer party and I have a very busy social calendar! The people are very friendly and often we are invited for dinner. Weekends are filled with taking kids swimming, fishing, boat rides, farm visits. At night we would often go to the beach! There is never a dull moment!

Highlights: My volunteer efforts with outh Challenge International went beyond the classroom and into the village where I integrated with the community developing relationships. A particular relationship that blossomed was one with the Dundas family who took me in as one of their own. We often joked that I was Toby’s sister. Toby was a 3-year-old boy who looked a lot like my brother when he was young and he truly believed I was his sister! About a month after I left Guyana, Toby’s mom, gave birth to a little girl and named her Angela! I was overwhelmed with joy and it is without a doubt the highlight of my experience.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Tell us a little about YCI and your role at the company.

YCI has a broad impact!

Amanda: Youth Challenge International (YCI) is a leading global youth development organization that promotes youth innovation to drive positive change. Through volunteerism and partnership, we work on sustainable development projects in four integrated sectors: livelihoods, health, leadership and the environment. YCI believes that young people have an important role to play in international youth development and we directly engage youth in creating solutions to the challenges they face.

I recently joined YCI as the Volunteer Program Coordinator in August 2012 and it has been an incredible experience working with our young passionate volunteers, a strong team of local volunteer interns, and our wonderful staff and partners in Toronto, Ghana, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Guyana. In my role I manage our volunteer program working very closely with all of our volunteers to support them throughout the entire preparation process and make sure that they are well prepared for project. My job includes managing incoming applications, interviewing and selecting candidates, providing them with all project information and resources for preparation, facilitating their pre-departure training, and providing ongoing support throughout their entire time with YCI.

My goal is to make sure we have the best volunteers on board and to ensure they have a valuable experience that contributes to the long-term success of our youth development programs.

How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?

Amanda: As a graduate of The Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario, I specialized in entrepreneurship and have a strong passion for youth livelihoods, micro-finance, and using business for social good. I have been actively involved as a volunteer my entire life working closely with CANFAR (Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research), sports teams and associations, student government, and more. However, I have a unique career path unlike most in the international development and non-profit industry, as I come from a business background, whereas most of my fellow peers went in to accounting, marketing, consulting, or finance.

I realized my strong interest in international development and social entrepreneurship when I worked abroad in Kenya for the first time for three months in both 2009 and 2010 with Western Heads East (WHE). In Kenya, I provided support and training to women’s groups starting up a community-based micro-enterprise producing and selling probiotic yogurt to improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. It was a life-changing experience and I fell in love with the country, the people, the culture, and the work that I was doing. My strong commitment and dedication to the WHE project and the community led me to return the following year where I continued to provide business training and support while conducting research on community-based enterprises.

In 2011, I had my first experience with Youth Challenge International as a CIDA-IYIP intern working in Guyana as the Women’s Entrepreneurship Project Officer. I worked with Youth Challenge Guyana for nine months where I designed and implemented a new women’s networking initiative to train and support over 50 female entrepreneurs. This included business training workshops, networking events, a mentorship program, public engagement opportunities, and the establishment of the Women's Entrepreneurship Network in Georgetown, Guyana.

What makes YCI unique?

Amanda: 1. We are a smaller grassroots Canadian organization focused on using innovation to drive positive change. With over 25 years of experience, we have well developed methodologies and a fresh approach to development as we continually invest in our programming to ensure results and real impact. Because of our size, we are flexible and can make quick decisions allowing us to stay up to date with current trends, cater to our volunteers and the communities that we work in.

2. Our focus is youth, using peer-to-peer learning to educate, inspire, and build young leaders in the communities that we work in.
Young people are the future and they have the determination, creativity, and passion to change the world. Young people can relate, connect, trust, and empathize with each other, and they have fresh ideas to solve the world's problems.

3. Our staff and interns. Both in our headquarters in Toronto and our local field staff in Ghana and Tanzania, along with our local partner organizations in Costa Rica and Guyana, our staff and interns are what make us truly unique. We have a small passionate, dedicated, and experienced team that strongly believe in the power of youth to make positive lasting change.

4. We offer a truly unique experience to young people interested in volunteering abroad as they work in small teams with dynamic work schedules in challenging environments. Our volunteers get a ton of responsibility providing them with a tremendous amount of personal and professional development. We have approximately 100 volunteers that go abroad each year with us, so their experience is truly unique unlike other larger NGOs and volunteer abroad organizations.

Youth Challenge International!

How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?

Amanda: YCI's strong partnerships combined with our approach to development and passionate young leaders make our programs sustainable and mutually beneficial for all.

Everything we do is community-driven by our local field staff and local partner organizations that are all aligned with YCI’s mission and vision. YCI partners include community-based groups, local or international NGOs, local, regional or central government ministries, development contractors and the private sector.

YCI believes that partnership is necessary to achieve enduring solutions. By sharing and facilitating ownership of programs through partnerships, programs become sustainable by local actors. Partnership also facilitates results that could not be achieved by a single partner operating alone and reduces duplication of efforts, which promotes a more efficient use of skills and resources.

Our local volunteers play a critical role in the sustainability of our programs as well. Local volunteers provide a tremendous amount of support to our international volunteers in the areas of translation and cross-cultural communication, community integration, mobilization of youth, designing and facilitating workshops, and more. These local volunteers also bring fresh new ideas from a local perspective to ensure that our programs are appropriate and relevant to the community for the purpose of sustainability.

What does the future hold for YCI?

Amanda: YCI is continuously working hard to improve our programs and our impact in the field while providing a challenging, dynamic, and valuable experience for our international volunteers. As we move forward in to our 25th year of operation, we are adapting to new trends and further developing our programs to ensure that we continue to build strong leaders around the world.

A big focus of our organization moving forward is in the area of youth livelihoods to ensure that young people are healthy and have the skills, knowledge, support, and opportunities to gain meaningful employment. With unemployment being one of the biggest problems facing youth today, we strive to be a leading youth organization focused on livelihoods.