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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Gap Year Travel: A story of social entrepreneurship with Jazzmine Raine

In today’s episode, we invited a very special guest, the incredible Jazzmine Raine, CanGap’s Community and Communications Manager.

Jazz shares her inspirational life story and experiences with us. From learning about grassroots development in Ghana to co-founding India’s first zero waste guesthouse, Hara House. She takes us through the ups and downs of her journey and reflects on the valuable lessons she learned and how they shaped who she is today.

Together, Michelle and Jazzmine discuss how a gap year can play a fundamental role in developing your personal identity and being able to explore interests, passions and gain valuable experience and skills, specifically through the lens of travel, and how taking a gap year will give you the opportunity to do this.

Buckle up, because Jazz takes us for a spin around the world!

Topics Discussed

  • Jazzmine shares her travels from around the world including places like Ghana and India, and how this allowed her to see life from different perspectives and brought forward humanitarian and environmental issues in developing countries.

  • The nonlinear path to starting her own social enterprise and what skills she needed to build and maintain her organization.

  • Honest reflection on post-secondary education and what role it played in Jazzmine’s journey.

  • The importance of pursuing your interests, saying yes to opportunities and being able to adjust and adapt in different situations.

  • Gap years are a powerful tool to expand your skills, explore the world around you and gain experience to carve your own unique path.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey everybody, welcome to the Gap Year Podcast! My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert. Today, we are keeping it in the family, we have the amazing Jazzmine Raine here.

Jazz has come on as our Communications and Community Manager here at CanGap and I wanted to bring her on because she has such a phenomenal life story and it really resonates with the philosophy of CanGap and how she brings her lived experience to the work that we do is just so incredible, so she is here to share her story with us today.

Hi there Jazz! Welcome to the show.

Jazzmine Raine - 00:41

Well, hey there Michelle, it's an honor to be on the show since I get to listen to every episode and do all the marketing behind it.

So I'm very honored to actually get to share my story with everybody today.

Michelle Dittmer - 00:53

Well, let's start with that, what is your story? Where did you come from? Besides from heaven to support CanGap, what is your backstory? Where did you come from?

Jazzmine Raine - 01:05

Great question! Well OK, so today, I'm currently sitting in my kitchen that is being renovated.Me and my husband live on a farm that we are basically renovating at the top of the mountain in Manali which is a cute little town in Himachal Pradesh in northern India.

So we live in the Himalayas but going back all the way to the beginning how it all started. So I'm actually originally from Toronto. I'm a Torontonian born and raised.

I'm totally connected to Canadian culture and I have a really diverse family and my story really started because of my mom.

My mom was a single mother when I was growing up and she was heavily involved in tourism. So she was a travel agent back when travel agents were the only way you could book your travel.

My mom had so much privilege to like to go on these incredible trips and experiences and she used to get to take me with her and it was amazing so you can tell if you didn't know already this episode is going to be a lot about travel, so that is actually kind of where my love for travel started is because I would get to go to these incredible countries as a mixed race girl growing up in a very privileged space in Canada and getting to go to all these different countries.

Even like my ancestral places like Antigua and Barbuda and all these just beautiful islands and really get to see hands on the difference in lifestyle and that really inspired me and also troubled me as I aged when I got into high school I started really questioning like you know a conscious living and sustainability.

And why can I turn my lights on and always have electricity, but kids in developing countries can’t? What’s going on here?

From a young age you know I didn't really have anywhere to kind of ask these questions.

Also, Michelle, I’m sure you can remember this time when it was all about big NGOs and nonprofits with these like really soppy stories about like “oh, you could save a life with just $1.00 and everything was just so emotionally like heartbreaking, like the way they would advertise how to support other people who didn't have as much privilege as we did in Canada.

And that got to me a lot. So I started doing my own research. I wanted to learn more about what these organizations are really doing on the ground? Are they really talking their talk? What's going on here?

The more I dug into my research I was like, Oh my God, there's something seriously wrong here. Like, why is the CEO of World Vision making $1,000,000 every year and we're not seeing enough impact work being done on the ground.

So at the end of high school, I actually started my own nonprofit. It doesn't exist anymore but it was called “Rain for Water”. So I'm really big on puns.

Ultimately it stemmed because I watched this documentary called “Flow” and I talked about this documentary all the time, “Flow” by Irena Salina, go watch it, it’s amazing! It’s all about the water crises across the continent of Africa really and looking at how these large industries like Nestle and all these bad boys were coming in and kind of making themselves look like the good guy but in reality they were actually destroying communities and there was absolutely no local leadership and nothing was grassroots. It was all Western, you know, colonialism and white privilege coming in to save the day for these poor African children and that was driving me insane, especially with someone with roots in Africa.

I was like, “Hey, this doesn't make any sense! Like how does this work? I want to work with my people, I want to know what's going on, I want to see them lead these amazing projects!” So, I started my nonprofit and I wanted to go travel and I was like, “Mom, I need to go to these countries, I need to see what's going on, I need to do it first hand”. But my mom was like, “Jazzmine, you're 18 years old like you haven't done anything solo on your own, that could be really dangerous, I'm a little worried.”

And of course, like she had been to some of these countries, but she's my mom and I'm sure many moms and gappers that are listening to this are going to be. Oh yeah, I remember that conversation. Oh yeah, that was totally the conversation how it went and ultimately I was like, OK. Well what can I do first so that we can build this trust between each other that you will let me go and fly and do all the things that I want to do.

And she was like you need to give me one year of university and I was like no! No, I don't wanna do that! I was never a studious kid, I always tell Michelle about this like I was an arts kid. I went to the Etobicoke School of the Arts, I literally lived in a leotard and was doing handstands in the hallway and singing my heart out all the time. Hated math class, that was my lifestyle and I wanted to kind of continue living and breathing that like freedom that I had in high school.

ESA still taught me all the basics, don't worry, like I still graduated from high school and I didn't fail any of my foundational courses, but you know, it was really hard for me because I was like I really wasn't enjoying learning in the classroom. I was having so much more fun doing my own thing and so my mom was like just do it and I was like, OK, fine, I'll do it and I applied last minute to York University.

I went for professional writing, which I always think is pretty ironic because it's what I do kind of for a living and I went and I just hated it. I hated everything about it. I was commuting really long distances like York is all the way in North Toronto. It was really hard to make friends when you were a commuting student, so that was really challenging for me, even with friends from elementary school that went there, I just still found it challenging.

York also was going, I don't mean to like to throw it on York at this moment, but back then there was always so much striking going on because this was back in 2010. So like, Oh my gosh, no way to age myself already, but you know it was.

It was just too much and like teachers weren't showing up, I didn't have a connection with professors. I really loved those small, intimate, intimate learning spaces like that's where I thought I really thrived.

So yeah, I ended up going through the year. It was miserable. I ended up dropping out at the end of first year and I told my mom I'm like I gave you the one year and I don't want to go back.

And she was like, OK, you gave me the year. So you've proven that you can commit and that you are, you know you can be independent and do what you got to do so you know, go for it.

And that summer I actually took the opportunity and was like you know what I'm going to go to Contiki. So I did like a smaller trip first to kind of dip my toes in the water and it was a group travel experience. Contiki actually runs in my family. My mom did Contiki when she was my age. Like literally like 2 years, probably before she got pregnant with me. I did Contiki twice in my lifetime and it was great because it allowed me to group travel which is so great for getting connected with like minded people because that's usually what happens.

You are always gonna find someone that is like minded. Like if you're all going to Italy or something, you have something in common right away, so that was really powerful and that kind of helped me solidify, OK if I'm going to like to go abroad and I'm going to do this solo where do I want to start?

You know what skills do I need to obtain, what is that going to look like? So, I came home and I thought about it after having some fun in Europe, of course, backpacking that’s always fun!

I decided to actually head to George Brown college and specialize in special event planning and I did that for two years. I did a two year diploma which is beautiful because Michelle and I are always doing events. It's so funny how you can end up in things that you didn't think you would do and then later in your life you realize just how much you use those skills and it's incredible.

During that time, I really learned a lot more about things like sponsorship and fundraising and how to actually run a nonprofit. Like if I'm gonna do this, I need to learn all those skills. After, I actually skipped graduation and I decided to head to Ghana. So that is where my kind of grassroots experiential education journey started.

So, in Ghana I was actually so fortunate because of my best friend Charlotte, who I grew up with, she was studying at the University of Accra for like a year abroad and I got to stay with her and really get to kind of, you know get to see the kind of student experience and we traveled actually across the entire country and we went to different little villages and communities and learned about what was actually happening on the ground and I remember the most shocking story I was told was this village. Oh my gosh, I can't even remember what it was like when I'm not as nervous and like hyped up about talking, I will come back and share the name of the village.

But the story was that a community of like volunteers came in and they brought this like rule. This rural community built them a well because they thought, “Oh well you're well is so far away you're walking 5 kilometers every day to go to this Well, so we’re going to drop in the middle of your village and make your lives so much easier.”

But that's not what they wanted and no one talked to the community about what their real needs were.

You know the women of the village, actually, this is such a cute story. The women of the village absolutely loved going 5 kilometers every day to the well, because it was their only opportunity to just be women and be away from the men and have this sacred like female space and no one asked them, no one even started a conversation with them to even understand what was happening in the community.

What were the dynamics? Where did they need support? They would have learned right away that it was a huge social development piece for young girls in the village. Like imagine finally having a safe space to talk to your parents about menstruation. Or, you know, growing up as a young female in a rural community.

So that was something that they really valued that was taken away from them when they could have had support with other pieces, lik agricultural needs that were needed at the time and but again no conversation and we see this time and time again.

One of the biggest examples of this is, Play Pump. I don’t know if you know that story. Are you familiar with that one?

Oh man. Well, I'll drop a link to the case study in the show notes because it's awesome to just look at how badly the Western mindset of giving to Africa has driven this horrible nightmare of different development issues on its own.

But that journey was so fascinating. I learned so much I was supposed to head off even north into Burkina Faso, which is a country just north which I thought would be cool to also help with my French development.

But I got very sick on the way there. You know there's no travel story without a poop story.

Michelle Dittmer - 12:24

I’m very comfortable with that.

Jazzmine Raine - 12:29

You know what, it's like a right of passage. You know you gotta have some stomach flu or something and you learn so much from that experience about how to be safe with food and beverage and communicate your needs.

So yeah, that was an interesting experience. But after that I headed home and I kind of solidified it for me, that like this is the space I want to work in and I love it.

And you know, flash forward the next couple of years because this was like I'm only in 2013 here, ended up going to India at some point with an organization just for like a month, kind of like as a like a just a trip away, during a job that I wasn't totally enjoying and that trip was so incredible because I was dropped in a again another like NGO setting where it was like very much around bringing in dollars from the West and not really giving value to kids in the east and that was heartbreaking and seeing kind of the missing holes in the organization, when I was there, led me to kind of build a passion for strategic planning and I worked with them on some strategic planning, hoping that they implemented they did not, but it's inspired me so much to come back because I don't know what it is about India.

I don't know, Michelle, what do you think? What connects you to India? I'd love to hear a few things that when you think of India, what do you think of?

Michelle Dittmer - 13:51

Well the people in India are so incredibly kind, so kind. That is the best word and just like so just so kind like that. That is the best word I can use to describe it from my travels there.

And while the food that's obviously my, my life revolves around it. But like the food is so awesome and I think I think just the happiness that just resonates like it, I don't know. It just grows from the ground up and it just exists in the animals and the people and just real joy.

Jazzmine Raine - 14:32

100% and I think that's kind of like the biggest thing I maybe took away from India right away was like perspective and growing this like beautiful new appreciation for family because everyone in India will go like it doesn't matter what is happening, they will drop anything for the family, especially kids and the family.

I used to always get so upset because I'd be like why are kids always taking vacation for weddings? But that is because it's the time when the whole family comes together and you don't always get that opportunity and it's so special. And I think we really take that for granted in Canada like “I'll just see my mom next weekend, or like I'm too tired like I'll do this later”. And you know, that really instilled this new perspective around. Just like community and the value of community and that kind of leads even further into my journey. But then I basically decided in 2014-2015 I would come to India as an intern.

So start my journey all over again, forget all the school I learned, forget all the things that I did. I was starting from scratch as an intern for an organization focusing on waste management and water sanitation, because that's kind of where my journey started as well. And I was here for about two years working on incredible projects and I probably spent a good eight months of those two years doing just community development, like just having conversations, getting to know people in the community.

So I was dropped in a little village called Gajner which is about 30 kilometers outside of a city called Bikaner, which I'll get to in a second about why that's such a special place for me.

And at that time I started to learn the language. I built beautiful relationships with people of all ages, there were definitely great experiences, bad experiences and ugly experiences. But like it was all wrapped up in this beautiful bow because I learned so much from that. And I think patience is probably the second thing that I learned from that and being able to go with the flow, because sometimes nothing ever goes to plan, just so you know.

And like we're going to dive into that about your gap year when we chat one-on-one one day, everyone listening. Because like no matter how much you plan, there's always going to be things that go astray and that is the beauty of this experience, is being able to adjust and adapt and find opportunity and things that might seem a little pessimistic or like frustrating or negative, but there's always something to learn from that.

But that experience is basically who I've become today, it led me. I ended up going back to Canada after two years due to some health issues, but in that time I became one of the youngest executive directors in Canada, which was really crazy. I ran an organization called Studio 89 in Mississauga, so if you're in the Mississauga area, they're now at Erin Mills town center. If you want to go and have a nice social justice, zero waste, fair trade coffee.

Running that organization and I'll be honest, I was terrified. I did not think I had the experience. I remember being so nervous like I was working at like a retail company when I applied there and when I got back when they got back to me I was like Oh my gosh and it was really just me being able to describe my experiences and the way that I went about community development or the way that I would approach projects in a sustainable way that really kind of made my resume stand out and trust me, the people I was competing against for that role where they had masters degrees where, like you know their resume looked like it was glowing like they looked so perfect and beautiful and mine felt so incomplete and cracked and all over the place.

And I was in this country and then this country I was doing this job then this job, but that was the beauty for my employers like they were like heck yes like this girl's got so much diverse experience. She knows what it's like to be on the ground, working on projects, she's done a little bit of the theory, she's an independent research on her own to learn more, and you know that is actually what got me the job is that they believed in my potential because I was able to communicate all of these experiences that I had in a way that made sense to the role and proved how passionate and excited I was.

Trust me, it's nine out of 10 times an employer will most likely hire you because of the potential and the excitement because anyone can learn a new skill, but you can't teach someone to be excited and passionate about something you can't.

Michelle, and I know that very well, especially like you know, and that's what's so beautiful about working with your students is because we get to help nurture that passion because that passion does turn into all of those amazing skills in the future. So anyways, I’m getting excited.

But I headed back to India actually after because I wanted to do something similar with the model that I was working with, which was the social enterprise cafe and bring it to India so, I called up my friend Manoj and one day I was like outside the cafe and was like “Manoj, I have this great idea. You are like so passionate about hospitality and you've always wanted to like run your own property and I obviously love traveling and I want to be able to give people an experience that's sustainable and zero waste or low waste and can give back to some of the amazing young people that we've been working with in Gagnier and support them in their projects because my goodness and like no credit to me whatsoever, I just told people that they could do it, that they could make things happen and they did it!

13 year old girls making reusable menstrual pads and selling them door to door as an entrepreneurial venture. Or, you know, young people implementing a waste management system and actually spreading awareness about why you know we shouldn't use plastic cups and why we should switch to reusables. So it was just incredible and we were like how can we continue to support these amazing young people?

That is what led us to building the Hara House. So in 2018 I left literally everything and me and Manoj started a little guesthouse called Hara House in Bikaner which was the main city and it was a social enterprise model where 20% of our profits would go back into supporting youth. So whether that was through training and jobs or supporting you know financially with their projects. And we were quite popular! Unfortunately, the pandemic really hit us really hard. Of course as it did for most hospitality and tourism organizations, but we ran for about two years and we had multiple spaces at the end of the two years. we had young people between the ages of like 16 to 25, working with us across the country doing tours or running the guesthouse or running our cafe space and it was absolutely amazing. So I'm sure you can imagine when the pandemic hit it was so heartbreaking to watch all that hard work just go and I sat for days like I should say days, months. Like thinking like I failed like I failed, I couldn't get the project to last a pandemic, like what's wrong with me? What have I done wrong? Like why do I deserve this? What's going on?

And it took me about until like summer 2021, so just before I met you, Michelle where I was like you know what? This is probably the best thing that ever could have happened to me because we didn't fail because we sucked. You know we didn't fail because we didn't put passion and hard work behind it. We failed because things happen and we have to readjust our expectations.

So last year we actually ended up reinventing the organization and now it's become this beautiful experiential learning platform, which is, I think, what me and Michelle connected on so much when we first met. We were just like yes, the power of experiential learning, and we do a lot of work on supporting actually young people with helping them get their social enterprises and ventures up and running. Or what does it mean to be, you know, a good ethical leader like what are the things that you need to think about? We do a lot of mindfulness programming as well because you're not taking care of yourself. You can't take care of anything else.

It's like quote of the year, and yeah, it's been absolutely wonderful. So that is what I do here in India and that is why I now live on top of the mountain because this is the area that we chose to kind of expand operations, especially because we do a lot of really great forestry activities here with the Forest Department as well. We're doing tree plantations to help businesses offset.

Honestly, there's so many things going on, it's amazing. Sometimes it's overwhelming, but all of this again, like none of that would have happened if that journey didn't start from my mom being like “Go to University!”

So and sometimes it can feel like one decision can be this, like detrimental thing to our life and it's like “Oh my gosh like this is this is horrible, like this is not what I expected and this is not what I wanted”, but it ended up being the starting ground of my journey because I was able to really clearly identify what I want, and what I did not want, and gave myself time to think about what do I really want and then go and explore it.

And having that open conversation with my mom was so powerful. She's the bomb. I'm like not mad at her for sending me to university, it's OK, but like that's being able to just have that relationship as I was going through this process and supporting me and making sure that I had what I needed. Obviously my mom had to fund some of my travels, of course, so I'm very, very grateful to her.

I know all the gappers really struggled with making decision, but you know, you don't, you don't have to commit to something that you don't like.

Like if you do one year university because your parents told you to and you're like no, mom, dad, this is awful. I'm going to do my own thing that is OK and they will understand as long as that you are clear on what you want because that's all like it's your life. You know it's your life, you're the one leading it.You got to make sure that you're enjoying what you're doing and you're taking the steps to find their own path.

But anyways, I'll pause there because I've been talking for like 20 minutes straight.

Michelle Dittmer - 24:34

I think there's so many things that can be taken away from your story.

I just want to pull out a couple of those underlying themes that I think make your story so exciting and relatable and aspirational, but also really realistic.

I think there's that element of nonlinearity. Like you said, you went off in all different directions and you followed opportunities and you followed your interests and you were able to not only take on projects or fall into other systems, but you were also able to create your own and everything came in a stepwise manner.

You didn't leave high school and start your own NGO in India. There were so many things along the way that helped you grow and learn to be able to get to a point where you were having that happen for you. You used formal education and you used travel and you used experience in the workforce and all of these things. You pulled skills and experience and a network and connections and you built a backpack of resources that you can apply to your daily life and can allow you to live a fulfilling life where you are happy, healthy and successful to your own terms.

For all the parents out there, Jazz didn't go off the rails and end up in her mom's basement and stay there forever and ever, which is a lot of parents' fears.

For young people you can carve your own path. We often hear a very strong story that you do high school, you do university, you find a job, you get married, you have kids, you get a house like there's this kind of assumed structure and really you can shake that up.

That's not the gold standard, that is one pathway. But no matter where you go and what you do, as long as you are evolving as a human being and you are moving forward then life can be brilliant. Life can be exciting and you can pick and choose how you develop yourself and Jazz is a great example of that.

I think a gap year is the great first introduction to doing something a little bit less traditional. Giving yourself some space and time for a lot of that self discovery, you talked about jazz, that ability to learn about what makes you motivated, what excites you, how you wanna contribute to the world and this window of a gap year can be such a powerful tool for young people to know themselves. Learn about the world, see what opportunities are out there for them, and then put that into practice for their desired future.

Whatever that is, whether that's more school, whether that's starting their own enterprise, whatever that is, but that time and space to really figure things out is such a valuable piece, and I think you've shared that so brilliantly through your life story.

Jazzmine Raine - 27:50

Thank you, thank you Michelle. Yeah and I think something that is so important that we note here is that like yeah, it's scary. It's scary! The thing is if you constantly stay in a zone of comfort, what are you really learning?

There's always that diagram, you know that diagram that's like this is where you learn and outside of your comfort zone like that is where the experience starts, that is where life starts.

I think you're going to be scared even if you go into it no matter what path you choose. Like once you graduate high school, it’s like the world is your oyster and there's people who have so many opinions and everyone's telling you kind of what they think you could do or what you should do.

And it's scary like the paradox of choice and then on top of that, when you choose something you're like, Oh my gosh, did I choose the right thing? Am I going to have the space to explore? And again, that's why I always think that if you are in a space of uncertainty, a gap year is such a good opportunity to get clear and you know you don't have to get clear on what you're doing in 10 years from now, just get clear on what you're doing in the next couple of months, like remember that just and I think you're saying this because I'm just I'm like blown away by how resilient Gen Z is like y'all have gone to school in a pandemic. You've survived that. You've gone through it. You've probably gotten sick through it. You had to adjust everything you know you lose out on the connections and the opportunities of high school. My heart bleeds for you knowing that you've lost so many of those experiences.

And it's OK to take a break from that. Like I, I can't even imagine going through so much trauma and then trying to just continue on like, OK, well, nothing happened like I'm going to go to university and do exactly what I set out for myself 10 years ago when someone told me that you know, go to college, right?

So I think it's really important that you take time to tune in for yourself. It doesn't have to be a full year either. It could be a semester. There's so much possibility around taking time off, going back into formal education, alternative forms of education that will still support you in your career development and designing what your purposeful, beautiful life will look like.

I always say like my mom became a police officer at 45 years old! 45 years old! Do you know any police officer who became a police officer at 45?

Your life will take you in so many directions and it's meant to be. It is fate. You have to trust it and trust the decisions that you're making when they feel right in your gut.

There's a little blurb in our Post-Secondary decision guide that I love that Michelle wrote about, really like trusting in your gut, because sometimes it's really hard to make a decision between two things. So what does it feel like kind of inside of you to get those butterflies? Whatever it feels right for you have to make a choice. And yeah, by the way I'll drop the link for that in the show notes, I’m such a CanGap promo girl now, just so that you can feel supported in that decision making process because we've seen that especially a lot this year is that it's terrifying to just to actually make that decision and go with the flow. But once you've done it, you're not worrying about the other option, you're doing it, you're doing life, and that's going to take you to the next step, the next road that you need to take.

So yeah, anyways, I'm blabbing on, let me hand it back, let me hand the mic back to Michelle.

Michelle Dittmer - 31:17

Thank you very much.

Well, I think this conversation has given our listeners and our viewers an insight into our team and why we're so passionate about the work that we do and how many resources we have to support people and that this step is and can be a very, very great tool for young people to take that gap year.

And we are here as a team to support you on your journey no matter where you're at, we have resources and tools and year long support that are out there for you, so please book a call with jazz or myself and have a conversation about how we can support your family.

That's what we're here for and we believe so strongly in the power of each and every one of you to achieve your full desired future. And sometimes that means pushing pause, and that means taking the time and if that's scary and overwhelming, come chat with us. That's what we're here for and why CanGap exists!

Jazz, I just wanted to thank you so much for sharing your journey. Sharing your story with all of our listeners and I'm sure folks will love to have some further chats with you.

Jazzmine Raine - 32:34

Thank you, thank you for giving me the space. I appreciate it. I'm honored.

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