Get off your duff to make a difference

It’s easy to be apathetic, lazy, uninterested. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be bored.

It’s easy to be apathetic, lazy, uninterested.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be bored.

But it also wouldn’t take much more sweat to get involved, Alexandra Morrison-Rusas told a group of students gathered in the Yukon College pit last week.

“Apathy amongst youth is a disease, and that’s something I’d like to change,” added the 20-year-old student.

Kids in the Yukon have it easy with opportunity constantly rapping at their doors, she said.

Having been selected for exchanges through the Terry Fox Centre, Encounters with Canada and the page program on Parliament Hill, Morrison-Rusas has seen the wide range of opportunities firsthand.

Everything she’s applied for, she’s received.

Now she’s trying to give something back.

“Because of the opportunity that youth have in the Yukon, it’s not so much an option as it is a responsibility,” said Morrison-Rusas.

“It’s the same thing as voting — you owe it to people who cannot vote; you owe it to people fighting for the right to vote.”

So now she is challenging her fellow students to step up and help her pilot a local chapter of the national NGO, Rights and Democracy Network.

The Yukon College group would join a web of 40 similar groups scattered through universities and colleges across the country.

The organization gives students support and funding to think up and realize projects that promote human rights and develop partnerships with other students in developing countries, said network liaison Genevieve Paul, who was in Whitehorse to help pitch the project last week.

Each group tailors its projects to resolve problems close to home.

For example, Yukon First Nations students have a soaring high school dropout rate, said Morrison-Rusas.

And that’s an issue the newly formed group could explore.

“We could start by seeing if we could work on that — engaging youth, engaging First Nations both.”

And if the Yukon’s team comes up with a successful plan to keep kids in school then those ideas could be applied to other countries like Ecuador or Peru.

“So they could pair us with organizations down there and we could share our ideas and experience,” she added.

For this academic year the network has set aside $1,500 for the newly formed Yukon chapter.

That cash plus whatever the local students can fundraise will go toward the group’s future projects.

To start, Morrison-Rusas has two unique ideas to raise awareness in the territory.

The first is to capitalize on Yukoners love of adventure sports with a long-distance triathlon dubbed the Tri for Rights.

“You pay a couple hundred bucks to do the Haines to Haines relay and in the end you say: ‘OK, that was fun,’” she said.

“But it would be really nice to have a base for it, to be able to say this money was going toward rights and democracy, to further something in another country.”

The second idea is to host a fundraising rave with a theme.

“I know people associate raves with, uh, less positive things with our youth,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean the idea cannot be flipped on its head to great advantage.

Morrison-Rusas’ interest in politics was sparked after her mother pushed her to apply for the House of Commons page program on Parliament Hill, and being one of just a few people who applied from the Yukon she was accepted.

“It was a different world,” she said of her experience in Ottawa.

As a page she got to meet with Canadian big wigs like Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe everyday.

“It’s so cool to be one on one with the people in power in our country.

“It just opened my eyes to how things worked and made me realize that I can make a difference.”

The Rights and Democracy Network was created in 1988 to fulfill a four-pronged mandate: to promote women’s rights, indigenous rights, democracy and corporate social responsibility.

Today it maintains chapters in about 40 colleges and universities — such as McGill and the University of Toronto — across the country, but the Yukon group would be the first of its kind North of 60.

Right now Morrison-Rusas is a power of one in Whitehorse, but she’s working hard to recruit other students to her cause.

If you’re interested in getting involved e-mail Morrison-Rusas at