By Michael Tutton
HALIFAX (CP) - Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean challenged Canadian youth to create a "circle of solidarity" with the citizens of African nations as she finished a three-day trip to Nova Scotia.
Jean accompanied Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay at a gathering Wednesday morning of 1,000 high school students in Dartmouth, N.S., that focused on international development. She also listened to speeches from St. Francis Xavier University interns who have worked in development and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in five African countries.
The Governor General said she's inspired by the students sponsored by the Coady International Institute at St. FX, which sent the university students to Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda, Botswana and Kenya to assist in a variety of aid programs.
"I know that solutions can only come from citizens who take charge. Citizens who work together and join forces and ideas with people on the other side of the world," she said.
"In so doing, a circle of solidarity is created - potentially all around the world - and in this circle, people guide and assist those who sometimes need a helping hand."
Jean told the audience they need to remember they live in one of the world's most affluent countries "by sheer luck."
She said Canadians have "an absolute responsibility to create opportunities for those with the greatest need."
She added that the youth need to realize there is also poverty and inequality in Canada that they need to play a role in addressing.
The Coady institute is named after the Rev. Moses Coady, a prominent founder of the Antigonish Movement - an organization promoting social justice which began in Nova Scotia during the 1920s and spread throughout the world.
Colin Coady, the great grand-nephew of the founder, spoke at the gathering about his internship in Ethiopia and said it's time to shift away from consumerism, and turn the attention of the West to assisting developing nations with basic needs.
"Imagine if the Nike swoosh, McDonald's arches and the Coca-Cola logo represented symbols of hope, instead of consumerism. Imagine if these companies' missions were to feed, clothe and house those who need it the most, and to do it in environmental sustainable ways," he said during his speech.
Jean has spent some of her time in Nova Scotia talking about the need to battle racism and improve settlement programs for immigrant women.
In an emotional address to black Nova Scotians on Monday night, she argued that the past wrongs against the minority shouldn't be forgotten.
She noted that recurring incidents of vandalism against black institutions, as well as subtle forms of racism like "a hypocritical smile" show racism is still present.
In an interview Wednesday with The Canadian Press, she said she's found Nova Scotians are open to addressing the problem.
"What resonates is that there is already an important signal that people are concerned. People really want to bring their efforts together, and they're ready to confront the past together, even in its most painful episodes," she said.
"I think you can raise that sensitive topic, and nobody was offended by it. People were actually happy that I could raise it, too."
Jean said she hoped to return to Ottawa on Wednesday evening in time to celebrate Valentine's Day with her seven-year-old daughter, Marie-Eden, and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond.
She's bringing some chocolates made in Isle Madame, N.S.

Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press