The Northern Initiative

The Northern Initiative began in 1996 when Queen’s University students traveled to Peawanuck, Ontario to implement a 2-week pilot project with Queen’s Health Outreach (formerly Queen’s Medical Outreach). The following year, Queen’s students were trained to share health education resources in Peawanuck and Kashechewan, Ontario. The Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang Initiatives began in 1999, the same year the Peawanuck Initiative closed. The Kashechewan Initiative successfully ran until 2005, and the Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang until 2016. In 2006, two new Initiatives began in Pond Inlet and Resolute Bay, Nunavut. The Resolute Bay Initiative closed in 2011, while the Pond Inlet Initiative is still running. The Northern Initiative expanded in 2009, 2011, and 2014 when the Salluit, QB, Webequie, ON, and Fort Providence, NWT Initiatives began, respectively.  

The main goal of the Northern Initiative is to engage Northern youth by creating positive mutual learning environments, promoting youth leadership and empowerment, and discussing a variety of relevant health topics. We partner with local elementary and high schools, local organizations, community organizations, and community members. The Northern Initiative is constantly changing. We are constantly seeking new opportunities to learn about diverse cultures in our country and improve our sustainability and efficiency as an organization.

We understand that culture strongly influences how we understand and value health, and therefore we seek every opportunity to incorporate local culture and traditions into our lessons and community outreach activities. All of our different initiatives are directed by and based on unique characteristics of each individual community. We tailor our lessons and outreach activities to the needs and wants of the community by completing comprehensive needs-assessments activities at the beginning of each initiative. We operating using an asset-based approach and capacity-oriented development, which means that we base all lessons and outreach activities on the strengths and capacities of each individual community. Our initiatives are relationship-driven and internally focused and we encourage and respect autonomy in every community where we work. We respect everyone’s right to make choices, hold views and to take actions based on personal values and beliefs.

When and where?

The Northern Initiative is one of five initiatives run by QHO. Currently, the Northern Initiative works with four different communities and seven schools throughout northern Canada. We are currently running initiatives in Webequie, ON, Fort Providence, NWT, Salluit, QC, and Pond Inlet, NU. We are excited to announce that we are beginning a brand new initiative located in Fort Good Hope, NWT in the spring of 2018. Within these communities we work with students of all ages and aim to provide educational opportunities to the broader community through a number of different programs and workshops. Our initiatives take place annually for approximately 5-6 weeks beginning in the spring.

Why?

We believe that creating and continuing positive conversations and learning opportunities about health related topics, in any capacity, is beneficial. The peer-to-peer teaching and mutual learning environment that we create in classrooms and within communities allows us to relate to students on a level that vastly increases the effectiveness in which many of these topics can be taught.

How?

  • Peer Education: The peer-to-peer model encourages a more dynamic, relatable, and uninhibited dialogue between students and teachers. We aim to connect students from diverse backgrounds in unique cross-cultura learning experiences.
  • Sustainability: QHO Northern works with the same communities and schools year after year, allowing us to form positive and effective partnerships, and to tailor our programming to the needs, wants, and culture of the communities that we work with. This greatly increases our effectiveness and value as an organization.
  • Health Education: We focus our efforts on health education, which is a tangible and sustainable way to promote health and empower youth. Because we are education-based, our students can reflect back on what they have learned at any point in their lives and our work continues even when we leave the communities. We also aim to stimulate conversations around various health topics, so that continued learning occurs and spreads within the communities where we work.
  • Extensive Training: The comprehensive training that our Peer Educators complete throughout the year is vital to their effectiveness within the classrooms and community, our relationships with community members, and our ability to create sustainable programs within the communities that we work with.
  • Self-critical: QHO focuses its efforts on providing effective and relevant programming within the communities that we work with, rather than focusing on providing our volunteers with a ‘travel experience’. This increases our effectiveness and value as an organization for our partner communities and schools. On a similar note, we do largely acknowledge and emphasize the benefits of a mutual learning model between our Peer Educators and our students. We recognize the importance of our Peer Educators getting to know the local culture and community before and while on Initiative, in order to increase their effectiveness within the classroom. We are constantly seeking learning opportunities to allow us to improve our efficiency and sustainability as an organization.
  • Diversity: QHO hires student volunteers from all faculties within Queen’s University, providing diverse perspectives and experiences to QHO’s team. We partner with various learning facilities, including traditional education centres, alternative education centres, adult learning centres, and community groups.

While our initiatives have great intentions, we recognize that ultimately Peer Educators will benefit much more from their experience than they could ever teach. We are grateful to the communities who host us and allow us to have these life-changing experiences. We are constantly re-evaluating our projects in an effort to make them more relevant and useful, and we appreciate feedback of all sorts.