December 5, 2017

Alumni Spotlight

Since we highlighted above the recipients of this year’s CWY Youth Leadership Awards, we thought it would be a good idea to highlight past recipients of these awards – 2015 Aboriginal Alumni Award recipient, Karista Olson and 2012 Overseas Alumni Awards recipient, Alain Tossounon.

Karista Olson – Gitxsan First Nation, BC

IMG_1964webAfter leaving her reserve and spending almost a decade struggling with the cultural disconnect and challenges associated with life in the city, Karista made the decision to return home and turned her life around. She went back to school, received her degree, and participated in a CWY Youth Leaders in Action Program in Peru in 2013. Having experienced a life-changing program, she set her sights on the next adventure that would eventually lead her to spend 8 incredible months in the Spanish province of Catalunya teaching English and earning her TEFL certificate. Upon her return, she made the immediate transition into life as a student at the University of Northern British Columbia pursuing a Joint Major in English and Environmental Studies with Double Minors in First Nations Studies and International/Global Studies. Such a multidisciplinary approach to her studies was largely inspired by her time with CWY and her international experiences.

After her first year at UNBC, Karista was selected to attend the International Youth Leadership Conference in Dubai, hosted by Civic Concepts International, and proudly traveled to the United Arab Emirates as the sole Canadian delegate. Now, entering her third year, Karista has the great honor of serving as the Aboriginal Representative for the Northern Undergraduate Student Society at UNBC as well as a Director-at-Large for the Prince George United Nations Association.

Karista has spent her last 2 summers as the lead coordinator for the Gitxsan Development Corporations Career Discoveries Youth Initiative Program working with high school aged youth from local communities to help them to develop the tools and skills to achieve success in and after school. This extremely comprehensive program is delivered with the belief that Indigenous youth will lead the charge into a prosperous and meaningful future for their communities and their region. It is this mandate, and the very nature of the youth themselves, that continues to inspire Karista to dedicate herself to the development and capacity building of Gitxsan/First Nations/Indigenous youth and communities.

After having the chance to travel to South America, Europe, and the Middle East, Karista strives to incorporate an international aspect to all of the workshops and programs that she leads.  As her academic career moves forward, Karista is hopeful that she can develop the skills and knowledge that will allow her to advocate for Indigenous rights and reconciliation in arenas that will provide opportunities to affect positive changes at the grassroots level. Her first pursuit after graduation will be the opportunity to work with the United Nations with her Master’s Degree, and maybe even a Doctorate, in her future.

Karista views every achievement, past and future, with immense gratitude in being able to access and seize the opportunity and maintains that this entire journey started with a CWY application form and a flicker of hope for something more. Karista is adamant that traveling, writing, education, and volunteerism will always play an important role in the life she leads.

Alain Tossounon – Benin

AlumniSpotlightBorn in the West African country of Benin, Alain was a participant in the 2004–2005 “Journalism and Human Rights” program of the Africa-Canada Eco-Leadership Program (ACELP) in Rimouski and Dakar. Two years later, he became Project Supervisor in the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) south-south program in Cotonou and Dakar (2006–2007) and held this role again in Valleyfield and Cotonou from September 2010 to February 2011.

With a Master’s degree in journalism and media, he has been a journalist for over a decade. First Chief Editor, and then Editing Director of Le Municipal, a weekly specialized in decentralization and local governance, Alain completed several certificates in natural resources management (Senghor University in Alexandria) and water before becoming a major reporter on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues. In this capacity, over the past number of years he has covered important events, including the first-ever WSSCC World Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene in Mumbai, India in 2011, the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012 and the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu, South Korea in 2015.

Alain has earned a solid reputation and won numerous awards in Benin, including Best Media Productions in the print media category from the Union des Professionnels des Médias du Bénin in 2009.

On the international stage, he honoured Benin in Stockholm on August 31, 2012 by winning the prestigious WASH Media Award competition for excellence in reporting on water, sanitation and hygiene-related issues, along with five other foreign correspondents (Benin, Cameroon, Lithuania, Nigeria, Belgium and India).

Alain is also known for being a staunch defender of WASH issues. As a founding member of the Réseau des Journalistes et communicateurs du Bénin pour l’Eau et l’Assainissement (the Benin network of water and sanitation journalists and communicators, or RJBEA), he has been heading the West African network of WASH journalists since 2013, which groups together 14 West African countries and Cameroon.

His civic engagement won him the 2012 Outstanding Overseas CWY Alumni Award from Canada World Youth, which recognizes the achievements of young people from Canada and around the world who are committed to innovative initiatives that promote peace, intercultural understanding, and community and international development.

Since December 1, 2016, he has been a United Nations Local Expert in the role of Media and Communications Specialist with the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) for Benin and Togo.

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About Canada World Youth

Canada World Youth is dedicated to enriching the lives of youth aged up to 35 who want to become informed and active global citizens. CWY offers international transformative learning experiences focused on building knowledge, leadership and skills through participation in sustainable community-driven projects. For more than 40 years, 38,000 youth and 12,000 host families have participated in CWY programs, in Canada and abroad.

CWY is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency as a charitable organization (#118973999RR0001).

Source : Mary McGee, Communications Officer, Canada World Youth, 514 931-3526 # 336,

Interviews and information (photos available):

Mary McGee
1 800 605-3526 #336
514 931-3526 # 336