Southern Exposure is a case study that highlights some challenges in planning programs and projects that are accessible to all youth, including lack of clear expectations of youth and organizers; real or perceived racism; lack of support before/during/after an event; language and cultural barriers and lack of translation; and failure to make language accessible.

Youth from remote, Northern, Aboriginal communities can have a lot to overcome and deal with when they decide to attend a camp several hours south of their home community. Having to contend with clueless camp organizers who are unaware of the needs or challenges they may face and how to deal with them does not have to be among the challenges – but sometimes it is.

At a global justice leadership camp for youth a few years ago, organizers were very excited to have a small group of participants attending from the North. We did a few things right: covering the cost of travel to make sure the participants could attend, for instance. However, we didn’t anticipate that the participants may have rarely or never left their home community, or that they were very nervous about interacting with the other participants and staff, most of whom were white, while there were virtually no white folks in their community. We also failed to prepare them for what to expect at the camp in terms of activities and global justice content. The Northern participants may also have been expecting to go to a well-resourced city with lots of attractions that they didn’t have at home, rather than to a rural camp setting.

On arrival at the camp, we opened with some games and activities, and participants seemed to be interacting well, though there was definite shyness and the Northern youth stuck close together. Some of the activities assumed that participants had prior knowledge of global justice issues and contained some jargon that may have been quite unclear. When we broke for supper and the Northern participants sat at a separate table from everyone else, other participants moved to join them at their table. However, the challenges must have felt insurmountable on the part of the Northern participants, and they were certain they were being judged and facing racism from the other participants.

The Northern youth decided to leave on the first night of camp. No examples of racism were given when we asked for more detail in order to act on their complaints, but the participants undoubtedly felt outside the rest of the group and felt judged, and those feelings matter more than the exact details of what happened. We as staff had much to learn about how to provide a genuinely welcoming and safe environment, in what we did to prepare ourselves and participants before camps and in the activities we did at the camp itself.

Related challenges:

  • distance and transportation logistics
  • emotional gear-switching
  • lack or organizational policy and support
  • different learning styles.