Jason Burr (left) and Iona Ferguson on retreat during their term with Jesuit Volunteers Canada in Espanola, Ont. Photo courtesy of Jesuit Volunteers Canada

Jesuit Volunteers taking it to the city streets

By 
  • April 11, 2014

Toronto - Jesuit Volunteers Canada is going to town. The rural-based, one-year service program is recruiting volunteers for an urban expansion into Toronto.

This September will mark the first time JVC will send volunteers to work for social justice organizations in the nation’s largest city.

These volunteers, four young adults age 21 and over, could have the chance to work with an international development agency that focuses on social justice for the Global South, to raise awareness about the causes of injustice and poverty and create workshops rooted in Catholic social teachings. They could be placed at a faith-based community development organization that is expanding into and developing programs for a new neighbourhood. The volunteers could also support hard-to-house communities, and much more.

While in service, the volunteers will live in community with one another, potentially in the same community that they serve.

“By being in community, they will learn about each others’ placements,” said Andrea Weerdenburg. “The urban volunteers will get a broad understanding of different social justice organizations in Toronto by learning from each other.”

Weerdenburg is the Jesuit Volunteers co-ordinator. She says that JVC has four tenets: simplicity, community, spirituality and social and ecological justice.

“A year of service allows people to live and work for positive change in the present,” she said. “It also allows for people to see how God can enable them to carry on long-term social justice work.”

Currently, volunteers are based out of the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ont., a rural area with a large First Nations community. Espanola is about a five-hour drive north of Toronto.  The JVC Espanola program will continue to run parallel with the urban program, both lasting 11 months, starting in early September and ending in late July. During four retreats throughout the year, the rural and urban volunteers will have the opportunity to meet.

In Espanola, there are two volunteers in this year’s program. One of the two, Iona Ferguson from Scotland, was motivated to join JVC by her desire for hands-on experience and to work with aboriginal peoples. With an undergraduate degree in social anthropology and a master’s in sustainable rural development, Ferguson sees JVC as a chance to apply her academic background and challenge herself.

“It is a great experience,” said Ferguson. “Definitely like no other experience I’ve ever had.”

Ferguson’s duties include running education programs for children, teaching Holy Communion and Confirmation classes on the reserve in Sagamok, as well as volunteering at the elementary school on the reserve, among other tasks.

The volunteers in turn learn about First Nations’ culture and the Ojibwe language. Ferguson and fellow volunteer Jason Burr have also launched Friends Ignited and Rooted in Education or F.I.R.E., a program that “engages local youth in talking about issues that affect their own communities.” 

“There’s a lot of challenging moments. But I really have picked up a lot of support people along the way... you just find out people really do care about you throughout these different challenges,” said Ferguson. “That’s just the best aspect of JVC.”

One of Ferguson’s initial challenges is by default being a stranger in the community.

“But people who I thought were the most standoffish have actually turned out to be pretty good friends of mine,” she said.

The deadline for JVC applications is April 30. For information, visit www.jesuitvolunteers.ca.

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