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Northern visitors summer in south

Program offers travel and volunteer opportunities to Nunavut youth
Kyle Wells

  VIDEO   – Two youth from Nunavut are in Powell River to gain experience and learn about new communities with the Northern Youth Abroad program.

Aggeuq Ashoona from Cape Dorset, population around 1,150, and Theresa Niakrok from Rankin Inlet, population around 2,358, arrived early July and will be leaving this Thursday, August 11. Both girls are high school age and of Inuit heritage. They have been living with a host family and volunteering full-time with community organizations while here.

Northern Youth Abroad is a charitable organization which provides high school students from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories with the opportunity to travel to southern Canada to acquire knowledge and work-related skills.

“It’s a really good experience,” said Aggeuq. “You get to live with a family that you have never met...and learn a lot about the southern life.”

While in Powell River Aggeuq has been volunteering at Olive Devaud Residence doing activities with the residents. Aggeuq wants to be a nurse and saw this volunteer opportunity as a good step toward that end. Theresa has been volunteering with Powell River Recreation Complex helping run activities for youth.

The first thing Aggeuq noticed about Powell River was the trees. Having grown up in a place without trees she was struck by how many trees are here and how big they are. “We do not have trees back home, we do not have green grass, we cannot build a garden because it’s too cold,” said Aggeuq.

Among differences between the two areas of the country, the girls have found a few small ones to be the most notable. Aggeuq spoke of her shock that nobody goes home for lunch here, whereas everyone has an hour to go home for lunch where she lives. Theresa finds it interesting there are so many modes of transportation such as buses and bikes, whereas in her hometown everybody either drives or hitches a ride.

People in the community have had lots of questions for the visitors but most questions revolve around people wondering how cold it is in Nunavut and whether they live in igloos or if their communities have hospitals and schools. One thing most people find interesting, according to the pair, is that there are no highways in Nunavut and to travel from one community to another a person has to take a plane ride.

Many have also been interested to hear about Inuit history and traditions. The girls have described the way Inuit people used to dress and hunt and have given demonstrations of Inuit throat singing, a traditional form of musical performance sung in duet.

Despite differences, the visitors said there are also many similarities. People in both communities are very friendly.

“Powell River is a beautiful place,” said Aggeuq. “Really nice people. When they get to know us they like to have us around because we are Inuit and different.”

Being in the exchange program has been a learning experience for the two teenagers. Aggeuq said the experience has taught her to be more responsible and more careful. She has learned to plan more rather than just do things without thinking them through, as she says is the way of life in her hometown. Theresa agrees they have learned a lot about responsibility and have also become more independent since starting the program.

Both girls are excited to return home but say they will remember Powell River, especially exploring the area and hiking, swimming, horseback riding and going to Sea Fair.