A former volunteer with the Uniterra program, Catherine Douville recently joined CECI’s Board of Directors, becoming, at 30 years old, its youngest member. A native of the province of Quebec, she thinks back on her past engagements and experiences, and talks of youth and rural regions, an issue close to her heart.
You can ask her to tell you about the semesters abroad she studied in Chile and Switzerland in her years as a Université Laval student; or about the internship she completed in Vietnam through Uniterra’s Students Without Borders program. Catherine Douville’s eyes will sparkle with joy and excitement as she recounts her experiences and reflects on how much they helped her grow, both personally and professionally. Now ask her about her new life in Montreal, and the response won’t be as enthused: “I can’t seem to get used to it! It’s here I’ve experienced the strongest culture shock!”
An “engaged country girl”
The 30-year-old woman otherwise claims to be fulfilled with her current employment, which was the reason for her moving to the big city in December 2016—she works at the Centre Intégré Universitaire de Santé et de Services Sociaux (CIUSSS) of Central Montreal. As an Investigation and Programming Planification Officer, she is responsible, among other things, to manage around 200 volunteers for the physical disability program.
But Catherine Douville is a country girl at heart. Not a weekend goes by without her going back to Saint-Adelphe, in the Mauricie region, the village she grew up in surrounded by the other 900 or so inhabitants.
Her objective couldn’t be any clearer: make a comeback to her native region within the next five years. Will she go to work at her father’s forestry company? Will she go on to build a counselling or support organization focused on youth? “I know one thing for certain,” smiles the young woman, “I will make sure to be true to myself. And social engagement is something that will always be paramount to my life and my actions.
Engagement is indeed a pillar of Catherine Douville’s existence. Influenced by her parents who were both very active in their community, the woman who started off her career as a social worker has always been volunteering with different associations and foundations. Claiming to have always had “an interest in others” coupled with “a certain knack with helping,” Catherine recalls that since her childhood, this quality of altruism came with a fascination with foreign lands.
“I wanted my parents to adopt children from a different country,” she remembers, laughing. “And my dream was to be an archeologist. I used to spend countless hours in the elementary school’s library, reading everything I could on Ancient Egypt. I would copy hieroglyphs to learn to understand them. I even had an Egyptian pen pal the same age I was!”
Alas, the road from Saint-Adelphe to Cairo is a long one… “I really do love my little piece of countryside,” insists Catherine Douville, “but let’s be honest: a small village, without any immigrants or direct contact with other cultures, does not make for the most nurturing of environments to learn to open up to others. And as far as issues of gender equality, opportunities for youth, education and transportation go … let’s just say we could draw a few parallels with some developing countries I worked in, where you can find similar realities—on a much different level, of course,” she argues, a challenging glimmer in her eye. “That was the case even more 15 years ago, but it’s still true today,” she adds.
Yet Catherine believes that with education, international internships, and all the opportunities in international cooperation, anything can be achieved. “Everything is not necessarily as complicated as we think,” she says. “We can fulfill our dreams. All we have to do is dare to dream big.”
Engagement as a capacity-building tool
Inspiring her peers and “planting the seed” is what she intends to do working with youth, including in Mauricie. Driven by her need to give and wanting to inspire engagement in today’s youth, Catherine Douville has been giving talks for nearly three years now at her former high school in Saint-Tite.
Building awareness of international development issue, gender equality, poverty, and the need for and benefits of social engagement, she seeks to show young people realities outside of their own and inspire them to act and engage. She does so, among other things, by presenting engagement as a tool for capacity building.
When in 2016 she spent 7 months in Tanzania with a mandate from CECI and WUSC as a youth counsellor and coordinator for the annual International Seminar organized by the international cooperation program Uniterra, she made sure to stay in touch regularly with the students throughout her mission.
Catherine Douville recalls with excitement her first experience in Africa, which represented “a turning point in [her] life”.
“I was invited outside of my comfort zone every single day,” she says. “There was a lot of networking to do, partnerships to create, meetings to attend. All of this in remote regions of a country with massive cultural differences, in English, and at times even in Swahili! There’s no other way but to come out of such an experience with a new perspective and more confidence in one’s capacity. But beyond all the personal benefits I reaped, what impressed me most was the impact the seminar had on its young participants. To see how they gained self-confidence and developed new skills in just five weeks was incredible. Engagement allows us to develop a whole range of skills and to improve our self-awareness and self-esteem. It can also act as the starting point for a ton of new opportunities. The seminar had a major defining impact on the lives of these young people. We sometimes ask ourselves if we really are making a difference… In this particular case, there was no doubt to be had.”
Making way for regions and youth
Determined to be engaged both at the international and regional levels, Catherine Douville joined CECI’s Board of Directors in October 2017. It is her way of staying involved in the field of international development before, she hopes, going on other missions.
It is also how she hopes to bring a different perspective to the world of international development and cooperation, focusing not only on priorities for youth, but also on those for rural regions, which according to her are too often neglected. “I myself struggled with this,” Catherine Douville explains. “I wanted to get involved, but had no way of doing so. Even all the fundraising activities were carried in Montreal! Yet there are a lot of people outside of the big cities who would like to know more about international development and cooperation, and who would like to get involved. Among them, many young people. It is high time we dropped the centralized model and opened up the door to all regions!” Catherine Douville plans to make this happen.
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