Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Northern Lights, Improving Mental Health in Kangirsujuaq through Photography, is an initiative of SOI alumni Madeline Yaaka, Gabrielle Foss, Eva Wu and Patrick Hickey. Through photography and the teaching of photography, these alumni engaged youth in the community of Kangirsujuaq, Quebec in conversations about mental health, increased awareness around mental health and provided a positive activity and focus for youth who may be struggling with mental illness.

These four SOI alumni connected over their experience with Students on Ice, perspective from fellow Northern youth on their SOI expedition regarding mental health challenges in their communities, and a determination to make a difference. The result, a collaborative initiative called Northern Lights to address mental health awareness and challenges.

“We called it Northern Lights because mental illnesses, like depression, can often be referred to as darkness,” Foss said. “The northern lights are something so beautiful that light up the sky, so we wanted the mental health and photography workshops to light up any darkness that might be existing.”

At the heart of the project is a five-day photography workshop. The workshop took place in February 2016 with support from Kangirsujuaq’s mental health coordinator Marion James, producer and journalist Eric Foss and with generous funding from the Tarek & Sophie Inspiration Grant.

Kangiqsujuaq youth_Northern Lights project

The workshop involved 15 students from Kangirsujuaq’s Arsaniq community school with the following objectives:

  1. Educate the youth about mental health
  2. Reduce the stigma attached to talking about mental health
  3. Teach basic photography skills
  4. Create a lasting positive impact in Kangirsujuaq
  5. Raise awareness in the south about mental health challenges facing Canada’s Arctic communities

A documentary was also created about the situation of mental health in the North, and how this project aims to promote wellness. It can be found here.

As a follow-up to the workshop, the second phase of the initiative will involve a photo exhibit; a regional (Nunavik) awareness campaign that highlights students’ photographs and a short documentary. The project team will also run a social media campaign presenting the outcomes of the project at several conferences and events and capture the interest of traditional media. This post workshop outreach initiative is made possible with generous funding from Polar Knowledge Canada’s 2016 POLAR Inspiration Grant.

Northern Lights is one of three winning recipients of Polar Knowledge Canada’s 2016 POLAR Inspiration Grants and a 2015 Tarek & Sophie Inspiration Grant.

About POLAR Inspiration Grants
The Students on Ice (SOI) Foundation, in partnership with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), launched the POLAR Inspiration Grants program to support SOI Arctic alumni in making a difference within their community or region of the Canadian Arctic. Winning projects for 2016 include Northern Lights, The Iqaluit Qajaq Society and Melting Ice for Safety. To learn more about the Polar Inspiration Grant Program…

About Tarek & Sophie Inspiration (TSI) Grants
Inspired by experiences on their Students on Ice expedition and by the skills, abilities, vision and enthusiasm of all youth participants, Tarek and Sophie Sherif launched a grant program in 2014 to support alumni-led community initiatives.

Northern Lights Project Team:

Madeline Yaaka, Kangiqsujuaq Youth Representative
Madeline is a young Inuk from northern Quebec who is interested in learning more about mental health. She is currently in her last year of high school and an alumna of the Students on Ice 2015 Arctic Expedition. She is very happy to share her experiences with local youth so that they may apply and experience their own expedition. Madeline is a volunteer at the Arsaniq School Girls’ Club, a replacement animator at the Youth House and works part-time for a local daycare. She enjoys playing hockey, soccer. Her language and culture are extremely important to her. She enjoys sewing traditional clothing and mentoring young girls with their own sewing projects.

“I would like to bring this project to my village of Kangirsujuaq because I feel that mental health is such an important issue which we rarely talk about,” says Yaaka. “WE need more education on the subject and need to encourage youth to seek treatment and support. I believe this project could help make that a reality.”

Gabrielle Foss, Education Program Coordinator
Gabrielle is the co‐founder of a non‐profit organization called Art with Heart (AWH), focused on improving mental health through the healing powers of art, specifically photography and videography. She is an alumna of the Students on Ice 2015 Arctic Expedition, an experience that changed her perspective on Canada as a whole, especially the Northern communities. Gabrielle attends the University of Western Ontario for Health Science with an Honors degree in Business Administration. Photography is a passion for Gabrielle and she enjoyed sharing this talent with the youth of Kangirsujuaq. She looks forward to sharing the student photos and her project’s video docmentary to help raise awareness about mental health in the North.

Eva Wu, Finance & Logistics
Eva Wu is a co‐founder of Art with Heart (AWH) and a fellow Students on Ice Antarctic 2014 alumna. Within AWH she is responsible for the technological and financial aspects of managing the organization, ranging anywhere between designing websites and buttons to crunching numbers for the CRA to review. During the workshops she delivered the photography and mental health resource material, alongside documenting the culture and memories through photos. Pre and post journey managed finances, technology, and logistics. Previously Eva conducted research projects for the Sanofi Biogeneius Challenge with Nobel Prize winning professors. She is a lover of the environment, especially the Antarctic, and an overall outdoor adventurer seeker with a strong basis in leadership roles throughout her high school career. She is an enthusiastic artist, photographer, and videographer. Eva is a student at McGill University pursuing a degree in environmental health with a minor in finance.

Patrick Hickey, Mental Health Awareness Advisor
Patrick is an alumnus of the Students on Ice 2014 Arctic Expedition and the 2014 Antarctic Expedition where he gained raw exposure and experience from the Polar Regions that shaped the way he thinks and sees the world. As an avid mental health advocate, he is particularly drawn to the issue of mental wellness in Northern Canada. High rates of suicide and mental illness have engaged him on an emotional level, and he is eager to help empower northern communities and northern people to improve their state of mental health. Patrick is currently studying Management & Organizational studies at the University of Western Ontario as a Ralph. M. Barford Loran Scholar. He is a diversified leader who has engaged in many mental health and wellness based initiatives in his community of St. John’s, resulting in several youth awards. Patrick was excited to leverage his passion for the North and mental health to help drive awareness, education and youth empowerment in Kangirsujuaq.

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