The Northern Youth Abroad program was inspired by a 1997 study that examined volunteer-based Canadian youth exchange programs. The study concluded that the participants became more aware of their own culture and more likely to succeed in pursuing and achieving their life goals. Nunavut Boards of Education, Nunavut Inuit Associations, and Crossroads International (aid group) together organized a pilot project. In 1998, ten young men from Nunavut went to try out a five-week home stay with southern Canadian families. A year later, the same young people took up business projects in the African country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).
The success of the two pilot projects led to the creation of Nunavut Youth Abroad in 2001. This non-profit organization arranged more trips and developed related programs for youth. In 2005, it grew to include young people from the Northwest Territories. The following year, it was renamed Northern Youth Abroad.
Mission and principles
He chairs the Northern Youth Abroad (NYA) board of directors. Board members bring a range of talent and experience to the organization, and many of them are NYA graduates. NYA has full-time staff and volunteers, in both northern and southern Canada.
Northern Youth Abroad’s mission is to: “Promote leadership, cross-cultural awareness, individual career goals, and international citizenship in northern youth. The program promotes success in education by providing life-changing experiences through volunteer work and travel.”
To follow through on its mission, NYA has established guidelines. Important among them is that the Nordic-focused program serves the different needs of individual participants, as everyone develops a greater awareness and appreciation for their own culture. The links between current and past participants are celebrated with alumni playing roles in all aspects of the programme. While the intent to invest in each participant’s individual growth is serious, the guidelines remind everyone that the experience should be collaborative, not competitive.
There are three basic programmes. The Southern Canada Excursions Program begins in October when applications are received, interviews are conducted and participants are selected. From February to June, participants are assisted by local mentors to complete assignments in their home community. In July, they traveled to Ottawa for a seven-day orientation camp. Participants are paired up and placed with Southern Canadian families for the months of July and August. They undertake voluntary work directed to their individual interests and professional goals. Reorientation camp takes place in late August. Fall assignments are complete in their local communities by the end of October.
For some, this is the end of their engagement with NYA. However, others participate in the Northern Youth Abroad Next. It is open to all 16-22 year olds who have participated in the Southern Canada Program. Participants are assisted in designing a unique program that matches their interests and goals and is highlighted through a personal learning project. Work takes place over the traditional academic year and culminates in a summer appointment at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Participants use what they have learned to conduct a building session and do more service learning and volunteer work.
Some participants extend Canadian or NYA Next programs with international travel. Previous participants have traveled to many countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Eswatini and Botswana. While they are there, they learn the value of global citizenship and more about their culture by seeing it in context with others.
Another popular NYA program includes Small Grant Awards. Individuals, schools and community organizations from the three provinces can apply for grants of up to $3,000 to support North-based activities and projects that are led or involved by young people. Previous grants have supported an ice fishing expedition in the Northwest Territories, a canoe trip from Fort McPherson, and a caribou sparing program in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The micro-program allows young people to learn the value of connecting with the land, in traditional ways, with each other and with their community.
NYA’s Northern Youth in Service program provides support to young people in regions who wish to design a project of their own. It can be an individual project, a project involving friends, at school, or with young people from another community. Previous projects have included fishing, tailoring and art.
NYA’s Northern Compass Teaching Program connects those who need assistance in school with a face-to-face or online tutor. Teachers help with a range of challenges including issues with a specific topic, study skills, task editing, organizing, or stress management. Tutoring is free for any high school or post-secondary student or students in a trade school or promotion program. Young people from the provinces can participate but do not need to live in their local community at the time to do so. The teaching program is part of the North Compass Program. They also provide mentorship and support to peers through school supplies, social events, and more.
In May 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced that it would withdraw its financial support, just before summer programs began in New York. Generous donors intervened so that the program could continue. Subsequently, the Trudeau government restored NYA funding through the Department of Culture and Heritage, International Experiences Canada, and Summer Jobs Canada. However, this represents less than 2 percent of its funding. More financial support is coming from the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as well as a range of organizations. These include the Kakivak Association, the Tachane Foundation, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Apathy is Boring, and the TD Canada Trust.
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