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I have been made out to be a lesser than. I want there to be emotional justice for those living without privilege, and for accountability to be taken for the social and economical elite" he said.
For Canadian volunteer efforts, pairs lent a hand to community service organizations. Kieren and his working partner Thuy had two placements, one in a family resource centre providing play based learning activities to children and the second making and providing lunches to Miu Miu Green Glasses the seniors' centre.
"The biggest thing for me, as well as many of the other volunteers, was that the program made me more aware of my own privilege in the world."
Kieren highly recommends the Youth Leaders in Action program to young people of all races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations and levels of wealth, explaining the program is meant to bring a diverse group together.
"The program is about bridging cultural gaps and creating better understanding between different cultural normatives," Kieren explained.
"My mother is a union representative and when I was young she always spoke about people's rights and First Nations issues. It was always a part of my upbringing," he said.
These sort of discussions on racial inequality, gender issues and consent, as well as environmental and political concerns, were common conversations within his group and helped ignite a passion to change more than what affects him in his day to day life.
To learn as much as possible about another culture, the program partners volunteers from both countries as counterparts that they live with for the duration of the exchange in host family homes. Kieren's counterpart was a 25 year old named Trinh Ngoc Tu.
but I didn't have the language to talk about it. I didn't feel that I knew enough to be an advocate for change. It was something I felt and thought about, but it wasn't something I shared," Kieren said.
A year after graduating from Prince Rupert Secondary School in 2011, Kieren moved to Kelowna. Traveling around the world was a priority of Kieren's and after hearing about powerful experiences some of his friends had on Canada World Youth exchanges, he decided to apply.
"The surrounding area has one of the world's largest biodiversities of butterflies. There were dozens of different species of butterflies flying around our community all the time. It was amazing."
Kieren Nelson finds his voice for change
Kieren said colonization was relevant to both Canadians and Vietnamese volunteers, and provided the group with an understanding of the effects residential schools has in Canada.
Kieren recently returned to Prince Rupert after taking part in an unconventional volunteer exchange program facilitated by Canada World Youth, which he says changed his perspective of the world. Kieren is now devoted to advocating equal rights and opportunities for all people.
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The ideals were always there, but it took an international volunteer trip to give 20 year old Kieren Nelson a voice to advocate change.
"I want to travel a lot in my life and this program was an opportunity to throw myself at the whim of world," he said, noting on his application he didn't specify where he wanted to be sent or what work he would be doing; he felt whatever he was picked for was what he was meant to do.
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In Sooke, Kieren and Thuy chose Canadian colonialism for their day long presentation, bringing in a guest speaker that guided volunteers through First Nations life pre contact to post residential school.
As volunteer work, the group worked together on community driven development projects or in small groups. Some of the projects volunteers found on their own, like Kieren helping his host family build stairs on their steep entrance way, while others were selected with the help of a Vietnamese communist organization for youth. Projects were meant to enhance the community's pre existing way of life, by request of the community members. Some projects were the painting of the village's culture house, building a volleyball court or providing English lessons.
Participants got to experience daily life in Pac Ngoi, which is located in Northern Vietnam and known for its breathtaking scenery.
For the Canadian half of the exchange, the group relocated to Sooke on Vancouver Island.
schools isn't understood in our generation," he said, mentioning it's not thoroughly and transparently discussed in school.
"We were living in a national park. Our community was right off Ba Be Lake, the largest natural water lake in the country," said Kieren.
Kieren was born and raised in Prince Rupert, with his concern for environmental issues and human rights issues being provoked by his mother Christina.
Kieren was selected for the Youth Leaders in Action program, a six month exchange split into two phases: Three months in one of 13 international countries and three months in a Canadian community.
Another undertaking the group did throughout the program were weekly educational activity days when partners took turns doing presentations on various topics.
While they still lived with the same counterparts in Canada, youth leaders were set up with a different working counterpart to promote more friendships within the group.
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