The Canadian Wildlife Federation is offering a potentially life-changing program to turn travel dreams into reality.
COVID-19 restrictions have had a significant impact on international travel over the last two years. But if there’s a positive, more Canadians are targeting domestic tourism destinations and local eco-travel to help satisfy their wanderlust. For young Canadians whose dreams of exploring their homeland are being restricted by limited finances, the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) offers a rare and potentially life-changing program to turn those dreams into reality: the Canadian Conservation Corps.
Wilderness training and impactful service learning
The Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) is a program developed by the CWF education department and funded by the Government of Canada through the Canada Service Corps initiative. The CCC program, launched in 2018, is a three-stage conservation leadership and service-learning opportunity for Canadians aged 18 through 30 looking to develop a deeper conservation ethic and connection with nature. It allows participants to make a significant impact on conservation in Canada while also enjoying travel experiences without worrying about how they’ll pay for them. According to Mike Bingley, Director of Education at the CWF, the CCC was purposefully designed to combine service learning with an immersive outdoor adventure as the first stage in the journey.
“Expeditionary travel has been proven to help people deeply examine what they care about in nature,” says Bingley. “We included the expeditions to allow people to bond with other like-minded people and reflect on what they care about in conservation. It helps them create and deliver meaningful, long-lasting conservation projects with their peers.”
Any 18- to 30-year-old looking to explore Canada while making a difference in conservation need look no further than the opportunity provided by participation in the CCC program. Individuals are offered multiple choices of coast-to-coast travel adventures. These journeys include essential skills training and relevant conservation education designed to inspire them to create the service projects they’ll deliver as part of their final stage in the CCC program. The Canada Service Corps funding has been instrumental in offering young Canadians the opportunity to travel to new and distant parts of the country to deliver impactful service projects.
“Canada is a remarkable place filled with amazing natural spaces, but it’s pretty common to hear people talk about visiting Europe, Australia, or Asia before exploring their own backyards,” says Bingley. “We wanted to allow young people to learn about the biodiversity that exists in different parts of the country they may never have previously visited and share it with their friends back home.”
Developing key life skills
To deliver the highest-quality adventure travel experience, the CWF has partnered with Outward Bound Canada. This registered charity offers social-emotional education through experiential adventures in the outdoors. According to Andrew Young, Executive Director at Outward Bound Canada, participating in the CCC program aligns perfectly with Outward Bound Canada’s mission.
“A lot of people come to us because we do outdoor adventure and outdoor education with a higher purpose,” says Young, whose company runs upward of 200 expeditions a year. “Not only are you getting a great experience in the wilderness, but you also get a chance to develop more of your own interpersonal and social-emotional skills. These are precisely the skills that help youth succeed in their schools, communities, and future careers.”
Young says the individual takeaway for participants engaging in travel opportunities through the CCC is more than just memories of incredible scenery and team building.
“Everyone, almost to a person, says it’s changed their life in some way,” says Young. “They’ve gained a new perspective of the world and a new perspective of what they’re capable of. A lot of people say they’ve found themselves out there. Others say they’ve gained a much greater sense of appreciation for the natural environment.”
Unique travel and service learning opportunity continues in CCC Stage 2
The opportunity for the CCC participants to travel outside of their home province continues beyond their Stage 1 adventure. According to Jon Wiersma, Youth Manager at the CCC, travelling to other parts of the country to complete their service learning opportunities is a primary reason why many individuals register for the program. The fact that the expenses are covered removes one of the most significant barriers to participation. In addition, the CCC participants get to enjoy a much longer experience in a new part of Canada as part of their Stage 2 placement volunteering with one of the CCC’s partners in conservation.
“Adventure travel is often something people have never done before, so it has significant appeal for registrants,” says Wiersma. “However, the main reason they join the CCC is because they want to have a meaningful impact on other parts of Canada as well. For example, they could be from Newfoundland and do their Stage 1 team-building and expedition in British Columbia. They could then choose to complete their Stage 2 placement with a partner in Alberta or Manitoba. That’s a three-month placement where they’d have a chance to explore more of the surrounding area, guided by a conservation mentor, to develop a deeper connection to the province before returning home to complete Stage 3.”
Removing financial barriers to participating in the program makes it more accessible to all young Canadians looking for ways to give back to Canada through service learning opportunities. Wiersma says such accessibility is welcomed by youth eager to complete their own future conservation projects to address issues like climate change, pollution, and habitat loss.
“They’ve been shocked since day one that this program is available,” says Wiersma. More than 435 individuals have completed the program since it began in 2018. “We’re thankful the Canada Service Corps funding has allowed us to offer this incredible program to young people interested in service learning related to conservation that includes an incredible chance to travel and see new parts of Canada.”
Senior Manager: National Marketing & Events, Canadian Wildlife Federation