Lots of Canadians go to developing nations to work with non-profits, but that migration is not always a one-way street.
Leonard Boniface, 33, a Yukoner originally from Tanzania, is turning that idea on its head.
Teenage Life & Young Adults International is a local Yukon non-profit organization that he started last year.
It was two years ago that Boniface visited the Yukon on vacation and fell in love with the territory.
Eight months later he was living in Whitehorse.
“It was the mountains, the people, the culture, even the food,” he said. “People told me it would be too cold, but it’s not so bad.”
A month after arriving, Boniface started TELIYA International.
The focus of the organization is to help youth develop leadership skills and give them the tools to engage with their communities.
“We want to help young people to be the change they want to see in the world,” said Boniface. “It’s my passion.”
He’s been doing this kind of work for more than half his life.
Boniface started working for local community organizations in Tanzania when he was 15 years old.
It’s a passion that’s taken him all around the world.
In 2004, he traveled to Sydney, Australia, as one of three Tanzanian representatives for the Oxfam International Youth Parliament.
“It had a huge impact on me,” said Boniface.
In Sydney he was exposed to like-minded youth from all over the world.
Working with Oxfam helped him develop the political acumen and organizational skills that have sustained his work.
When he returned to Tanzania, he traveled around the country advocating for youth and social change.
And he’s continuing that work here in the Yukon.
The stereotypical view of teenagers is that they are lazy, selfish and apathetic. But that’s not a view that Boniface accepts.
There are many young people who have the passion for social change but just don’t know where to start, he said.
“There are so many things going on in the world, so many organizations – even in Whitehorse.”
The mission of TELIYA is to arm young people with the skills and focus to effect change, and connect them with organizations to help them realize their goals.
Over the next few months, the organization is hosting a series of lectures and leadership workshops for high school students in Whitehorse.
The idea is to bring in speakers with expertise in topics like health, drug abuse, project management, entrepreneurship and more.
On Monday, they brought in the president of Volunteer Yukon to FH Collins to speak about local volunteer opportunities.
While the leadership lecture series is a local initiative, TELIYA is getting ready to break out internationally.
The Mobile Youth Container Centre is a project to build a library in the Bariadi district of Tanzania.
For Boniface, it’s a project close to his heart. He grew up in Bariadi.
“There are not many resources there,” he said.
Boniface plans to build the centre out of a recycled shipping container partitioned into different rooms.
It will include a library, an internet cafe, photocopiers and a meeting room.
If all goes as planned, it will be up and running by early next year.
He’s already acquired some donated computers, and is looking into buying a shipping container.
What he really needs now is books for the shelves and money to keep the project going.
While the speaking program is funded by a grant from the Yukon government, the library project doesn’t have a secure source of funding.
In May, TELIYA hosted a fundraiser for the library called Friends of Africa, which brought food, music and art of the continent to Watson Lake.
Boniface hopes to undertake more events like that around the territory to raise money and awareness of the project.
As the initiative matures, he hopes to send Yukoners to Tanzania to take part in the project.
With most things happening in larger cities, it’s easy for a teenager in a remote and isolated place like the Yukon to feel disconnected from the rest of the world, said Boniface.
It’s a feeling he dealt with growing up in Africa.
But overcoming it opened an amazing world of opportunities.
“Learning to get involved, to be inspired, has taken me so many places,” he said. “In one way or another, we are connected to the world.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with TELIYA or finding out more about its projects can contact them through their website, www.teliya.org.
Contact Josh Kerr at email@example.com