Young Canadians encounter many barriers from high rates of unemployment to soaring tuition fees, but according to Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, young people in Canada hold the balance of power in our nation’s democracy.
Dallaire, who is the former head of the United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda, is also a member of the Senate, celebrated humanitarian and author of Shake Hands with the Devil and They Fight like Soldiers, Die like Children.
The senator was invited to give an Impact Conference at Carleton University on Feb. 4 to raise funds for UNICEF Carleton’s annual goal of $5,000 and speak to interested members of the community.
“You know, there are only two people that sell out here and one of them is Romeo,” said UNICEF Carleton events coordinator Taylor Gascoigne.
“And I think that speaks volumes; maybe because Carleton is such a political science major kind of school, but mainly because of what he’s done.”
Dallaire brought words of encouragement to people aged 18-25 who account for 35 per cent of the voting population in Canada. According to Dallaire, only 20 per cent of the 35 actively vote in federal elections.
“This means that on every election, there are about 2.5 million votes that are not exercised,” said Dallaire.
“Because those votes have never been counted, they have never played in the exercise of our democracy.”
Dallaire also pointed to the kinds of assets young people have today when compared to his own generation.
“A university degree and the intellectual rigor that you are being implicated – the knowledge, the skills – is moving you into the leadership strata of the nation,” said Dallaire.
The senator also highlighted legacies of the cold war, the Rwanda genocide, 9/11 and contemporary issues such as extremism and the importance of environmentalism.
There were several questions posed to students, such as “is humanity to thrive or survive the future?” But the biggest piece of advice the senator gave students was to travel and become activists within non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
“You should have under your bed a pair of sneakers or boots that have been soiled with the earth of a developing country; that you went over for a couple of weeks or months – that you saw, listened, tasted and felt what is happening to 86 per cent of humanity,” said Dallaire.
“You are the generation without borders.”
According to Natalie Dillon, president of UNICEF Carleton, Dallaire was invited to inspire the rest of the Carleton community and help achieve their annual goal of $5,000. For every $10 ticket sold, 1,428 water purification pills, or 11 anti-malaria treatment tablets, can be bought and distributed to areas in need.
“We sold about $3,000 worth of tickets, so we have now officially passed our $5,000 goal of the year,” said Gascoigne.
“This just means that from now on – every penny and every donation – is just a cherry on top.”
Members of UNICEF Carleton surely inspired others by surpassing their target goal, but it’s Dallaire’s hope that other young Canadians can also step up to the plate.
“You’re hungry, you’re activists, you’ve got the skills and capabilities,” said Dallaire in his closing statement.
“All you need is to get off your ass and do it.”