Rachelia Giardino, 26, Peterborough
Kawartha World Issues Centre

Rachelia Giardino has a wonderful ability to view worldwide change through the lens of small communities. Working with the Kawartha World Issues Centre, she helps youth enact change through workshops and community outreach events. “Climate change can feel really overwhelming on a global level,” she says, “but when we break it down on a local level it feels a lot more approachable.”

After working with Peterborough youth engagement program Speak Up Speak Out from the age of 17, Rachelia quickly transitioned from shy teenager to outspoken community advocate. She came across KWIC initially as a high school student, and again when she attended Trent University and was looking to continue her service work. “I loved their mandate and mission,” she says. “It marries two things I didn't think I could bring together: youth engagement and social justice.”

In her past three years as a KWIC programmer within the Seeds for Justice Facilitators Collective, Rachelia's constant goal has been to create inclusive and welcoming spaces for youth. “It's important to include youth from the start of planning—don't assume what they want, have them be informed stakeholders in the project.” She stresses the importance of a social justice analysis based on the populations involved. Low income youth, for instance, might be provided with free food or bus tokens to help them engage with the group. 

At the same time, Rachelia strikes a careful balance between providing plenty of support, and stepping back to let youth flex their own leadership muscles. Putting them in control of the decisions gives them agency and self-confidence.

In her past three years as a KWIC programmer within the Seeds for Justice Facilitators Collective, Rachelia's constant goal has been to create inclusive and welcoming spaces for youth. “It's important to include youth from the start of planning—don't assume what they want, have them be informed stakeholders in the project.” She stresses the importance of a social justice analysis based on the populations involved. Low income youth, for instance, might be provided with free food or bus tokens to help them engage with the group. At the same time, Rachelia strikes a careful balance between providing plenty of support, and stepping back to let youth flex their own leadership muscles. Putting them in control of the decisions gives them agency and self-confidence.

From year to year, the focus topic within Seeds for Justice changes. Over the past year and a half, Rachelia led a program focused on everyday democracy, in which youth who are not yet of voting age were shown other ways to remain engaged in political issues. Currently the program is shifting focus to climate justice work using the arts; the Facilitators Collective has created a workshop for grade six to nine classrooms, using collage-making and short skits to explore issues, causes, and impacts with students.

Perhaps Rachelia's proudest project was a community summit on creating inclusive and welcoming spaces for youth, held in October 2015. The 70 attendees were split between youth, youth service providers, city employees, and interested citizens. The summit showcased KWIC research and gave a speaking platform to local youth. “It was a really beautiful event,” Rachelia says. “People left us with some great feedback, and from that there were a few other events that followed. It helped begin a sustainable conversation in the community.”

As for what being a global changemaker means to her? “It's an interesting term, it seems so big. But when I reflected on it... I thought about it in the same way I approach KWIC; when it's overwhelming I look at how changes can be made at the small scale on a local level.”

Kawartha World Issues Centre is a grassroots education and resource centre, promoting dialogue and understanding of world issues.

Image: Three hands on a globe. KWIC - Kawartha World Issues Centre

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