By Christine Oldfield, 4-H Ontario Executive Director

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word, ‘explore’ is our Online Explore 4-H Project. Staff created this project last year after the government’s emergency order meant that we could no longer meet in-person. We wanted to let 4-H’ers know that we were still here, and that they could engage with us even if it was through self-discovery. This year we have enhanced these offerings with fun and interactive activities. We are hoping that this project will provide a benefit to our current 4-h’ers but also introduce youth new to the program.

It is fun to explore and try new things. You can learn a lot about your community, the world and yourself through discovery. I was lucky and privileged in my early twenties to be able to travel, work and volunteer in different places around the world. My first volunteer experience was to build a school in a rural cooperative in Brazil, then a year teaching in a school for street children in Mozambique. After graduating from University, I spent some time in South Korea teaching English and after that I travelled to India where I had the chance to do an internship with a rural development agency. I was motivated to do these things because I wanted to make a difference, but I was also motivated to do these things because of the sense of adventure and the opportunity to learn about the world and myself in a way that would test my assumptions about what I thought was, ‘human nature’ and who I thought I was as a person. I would not give up these experiences for anything. They have made me who I am. Through exploring, I learned what I liked, what I did not like, what I was good at and what was a struggle. I stretched myself by exploring past my comfort zone only to discover that it is possible to expand your comfort zone.

The pandemic has made many of the activities that bring us joy impossible, whether it is hanging out with your extended family, going out to dinner with a friend or going away for a weekend or holiday. I do not know about you, but I was starting to feel as though my life were shrinking. I tried to remind myself to keep exploring and I have had many great and unique experiences as a result. In January, my kids joined the International Lunch Club (Waterloo, Wellington). I never would have imagined that my kids could join over 100 others cooking in our own kitchen, being coached by leaders miles away, learning about countries and cultures on different continents, and having the sense of camaraderie that comes with so many people doing the same activity and the same time. It was a highlight of that somewhat dark time (both in terms of spirit and daylight hours). I am so glad my kids tried that, that other youth took a chance by participating and that the volunteers took a leap of faith that an online cooking club could be great. I encourage every one of you (myself included) to keep doing new things, to keep exploring and keep learning.