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Civic Impact

New youth project sparks cross-cultural spiritual connections

At a gathering last spring, a group of about 40 youth involved with YSI Collaborative, a program working to empower young people to make good things happen in their communities, were wrestling with how to create more cross-cultural understanding, especially between indigenous and non-indigenous young people. Somewhat unexpectedly, spirituality became a major part of the discussion. “Not in the traditional theological sense, but people thought it would be great to explore what it means in a bigger context. How do young people relate to spirituality? How is it influenced by where they come from and their social backgrounds?” says Chris Lee, project coordinator for YSI Collaborative.
With a grant from Inspirit Foundation and working with SKETCH Working ArtsThinking Rock Community Arts, the Children’s Peace Theatre and Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO), YSI came up with Young Spirit Circles. Described as “a roadshow of sorts,” the initiative will host meetings for young people from four areas of Ontario so they can engage with others of different ethnic backgrounds and belief systems. This month, four change-makers/organizers from across the province are being trained to host these conversations this spring and summer.
This is the first time YSI has deliberately explored youth spirituality.
“The gatherings we run are focused on the individual’s self-transformation, the groups they belong to and the larger systems they’re working in, so we try to approach things holistically,” says Lee. “While we haven’t explicitly talked about spirituality, we do try to create spaces where we can have conversations where people can ask, ‘What is the type of self-care or supports you need? Where do you get your strength from?’”
Indigenous culture remains a component of the program. “One of the trainers is an elder, Gerard Sagassige, who will bring some of his teachings. That will offer a framework, but each community will have its own take on what spirituality means,” says Lee. For example, the event in East Toronto will probably include youth with South Asian backgrounds.
YSI is hoping the gatherings—and the skills gained by participants and the leadership team—will lead to other connections and community transformations. “We’re hoping these young people will listen in ways that change their worldview and allow them to come at things from a more reflective place.”
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Chris Lee
Photo: Fonna Seidu
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