World Youth Alliance forms Canadian committee

  • June 8, 2009
{mosimage}As the World Youth Alliance (WYA) celebrates the tenth anniversary of its founding in New York City, it also prepares to add another committee to its ranks — the first and only Canadian committee.

“This national committee will allow WYA to better respond to the issues the Canadians uniquely face as barriers to further development and allow WYA to be able to communicate more effectively with its members,” said Seanna Magee, a Catholic resident of Toronto who interned with WYA’s headquarters in 2005 and will be spearheading the new committee with the help of WYA’s North American director.

WYA is a coalition of youth aged 10 to 31 from around the globe who are committed to building solidarity and training youth to work regionally and internationally to impact policy and culture. WYA  refers to the dignity of the human person as its basis on all issues and works at the level of the United Nations, the European Union and other policy-making bodies. Its head office is in New York, but it also has regional offices in Manila, Philippines; Nairobi, Kenya; Brussels, Belgium; Mexico City and plans to establish an office in Beirut, Lebanon, this fall.

Founded by a Canadian who was living in New York City, WYA has drawn many more young Canadians as interns and staff over the years, including Magee. But as Canada now has 1,000 certified members, but no structured body, Magee said it was time to pull something together.

“The idea is really to better represent Canada to be able to work to promote the idea of dignity in a way that is relevant to us,” Magee said. “In North America, many of our members identify culture-of-life issues as those with the greatest importance when it comes to promoting the dignity of the person here. In Africa, the dignity of the person translates more to improving community-based living, and life issues aren’t even an issue, as their culture has no debate on (them). The issues, really, come from the culture and it’s through cultural activities that we can identify what needs to be done,” Magee said, adding that issues relating to Canada’s aboriginal people are also on their radar.

Casey Downing, WYA’s North America director, said having a Toronto committee could mean that a North-American training seminar would be hosted here next year. But before the fall, Downing will work with Magee on establishing university chapters of WYA in Ontario and Eastern Canada. They hope to have 10 to 15 Canadian groups to bring to WYA’s September conference at Yale University in Connecticut.

“Because there was no structure previously, there was no way to hand off the leadership when WYA members left their university,” he said. “We are hoping to get all of our members trained to establish a committee in their area.”

The announcement of the new committee comes on the heels of a recent Ontario visit by WYA’s Director of Advocacy, Rebecca Austen. Austen, a lawyer who attended the University of Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, grew up in Pembroke, Ont. She said although WYA is not a religious organization, the language it uses would be very familiar to Catholics, as it has been for her and other young Catholics so far.

“I think the principle that every human being has intrinsic worth and intrinsic dignity, that human beings can’t be used as a means to an end, is something that is familiar to Catholics and that I think Catholics would agree with,” Austen said. “But WYA is saying there are certain principles that transcend all cultures and religious traditions and so these principles, everyone can agree on without coming at it from a religious perspective. Fundamentally, we are saying there are certain principles  that cannot be usurped in policy and everyone should be able to come to an agreement on that.”

When asked about WYA’s effectiveness at a policy-making level, Austen said it sees success on a yearly basis. Because WYA represents millions of youth worldwide, through its certified members and member organizations, it presents a strong voice to country leaders. Special accreditation allows them to attend all committees at the United Nations freely.

“This allows an immediate impact because we can give oral and written statements at commissions,” she said.

While their biggest success is in educating youth, Austen said, it’s exciting to see when they have a direct impact on the language used in international documents. In 2005, for example, they were instrumental in convincing people, leading up to a UN declaration, that only a total ban on human cloning would work to protect the human person, she said.

For more information on WYA, visit .

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