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BLOG & THE NEWS

North in Focus Partners with Students on Ice!

Eva Wu

North in Focus is excited to announce our partnership with Students on Ice!

 
SOI logo
 

Students on Ice (SOI) is a foundation which strives “to educate the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions, to support their continued learning and growth and inspire initiatives that contribute to global sustainability.” SOI takes youth on extraordinary educational expeditions to the Poles (Arctic and Antarctic regions) to immerse youth in all aspects of these regions.

SOI’s partnership with NIF reflects an intimate connection between the two organisations: NIF core team members Eva Wu, Gabrielle Foss, Ashley Cummings and Patrick Hickey, as well as Youth Engagement Advisor Ocean Wyatt, and Ambassadors Abhayjeet Singh Sachal, Didiane Shenge, Malu Ostermann, Cassie Jones, Caitlin Gilchrist and Raphael Dury are SOI alumni. For many of us, our inspiration for putting #northinfocus was nurtured, if not cultivated, by SOI. With the positive impact of SOI on us, as individuals and as an organisation, we hope to impart a positive impact on the youth of Arctic and Subarctic communities in Canada, through week-long mental wellness workshops.

When asked about her experiences with SOI and how these experiences relate to her involvement with NIF, Ashley Cummings, NIF’s Northern Consultant, Ambassador and Alumni Coordinator, said:

“Students On Ice gave me an experience that created more confidence in myself and my endeavours as well as connected me to other youth who are interested in making change. This is where I met Gabi and got introduced to Art with Heart, and a few months later I met Patrick and we connected through SOI and I got introduced to what is now North in Focus. Once I became a part of NIF, it was no surprise to connect so deeply with Eva, another alumna. The Students On Ice Foundation truly is the foundation that I've built my passion for change on. It has provided such a strong connection between so many people. Having this partnership is a dream come true to have a deeper connection with an organization that truly shifted my perspective on the world."

So what exactly does the partnership entail?

  1. Exchange of connections to:

    1. Alumni and mentors: community leaders, Alumni Chapter members and Alumni network members will be accessible for mental health resource and curriculum expansion; this also enables alumni connections to hold pre-planned NIF workshops in varying locations across Canada (south included; potential program expansion).

    2. Partners: NIF will gain a greater range of valuable connections, especially those which share our aims (eg. regional governments and companies that support wellness programs); this will aid in the expansion and development of NIF-facilitated programs.

  2. Cross-promotion: by promoting each other’s developments on websites and social/news media, we can reach and engage a larger audience; moreover, NIF can engage potential SOI applicants during workshops and mentor them throughout SOI enrollment processes.

  3. Cross-consultation for development: NIF can seek support and guidance from SOI team members while providing a perspective on alumni engagement; and NIF can help develop a mental wellness curriculum during and post SOI expeditions and provide a continual mental wellness presence at SOI.

- Blog post written by the one and only Blog Ambassador, Derek Leung.

Mother Nature

Eva Wu

Written by Derek Leung- NIF Blog Ambassador

Nature has an amazing effect on us. Blue sky with cumulus clouds wisping away; brushstrokes of green foliage covering the foreground and background. Fresh air flows through our lungs, while we feel the warmth of the sun above us, peeking through the forest canopy. When we open our ears, the crunch of deadfall under our feet sets the rhythm for the melody around us: the successive dropping glissandos of Cardinalis cardinalis accompanied by the tambourines of Populus tremuloides—sensory overload, if you are paying attention. Here are three ways that describe how exploring nature can improve your mental wellness.

1) Being Mindful of Nature

Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus caternatus) on the Georgian Trail, Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung. 

Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus caternatus) on the Georgian Trail, Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung. 

Stimulating your senses helps to increase your awareness of surroundings, while decreasing the frequency of internal thoughts. That is, it keeps you mindful of your external and internal experiences and keeps you thinking in the present. This is the crux of mindfulness meditation, and it aids in stress reduction and increased attention.

Awareness of the senses is also key to developing strong visualisation skills, which can train your brain via neuroplasticity. When I close my eyes, I find myself in a solitude of sound during the middle of August, facing the clear blue Eva Lake with a backdrop of mountain, Picea engelmannii and warming sun. The return trail winds 7.1 km back the way I came, and I’m backed by the Coursier Creek valley. I sit down for lunch, with a ham sandwich in one hand and a container of water in the other. When I open my eyes, Eva Lake reminds me that everything will be okay.

2) Colour

Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park. Panorama taken by Derek Leung.

Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park. Panorama taken by Derek Leung.

Bright days filled with green leaves and yellow sunlight help set a relaxed, positive mood. Human eyes are preferentially more sensitive towards yellow-green wavelengths, which reflects our natural connection to vegetation. Research has shown that green environments promote positive feelings, as opposed to red environments, which promote anger.

Seeing the blue sky indicates to our brain that it is daytime, which controls melatonin levels (i.e. regulates our sleep cycle), and results in increased energy and awakeness. Considering that we sleep for a third of our lives, sleep is an easily-neglected factor of mental wellness. Waking up to a blue sky is crucial to our health!

3) Exercise

Climbing below the Overhanging Wall, Bruce Peninsula National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung.

Climbing below the Overhanging Wall, Bruce Peninsula National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung.

Exercise, from hiking, to cycling, to canoeing/kayaking, reminds you that you are on track with your healthy, active life. This is key to improving not only physical fitness, but also mental wellness through a positive body image and self-esteem. Remember: you have to start somewhere; why not now?

From biking in Point Pelee National Park, to touring the transition zone at Beausoleil Island (Georgian Bay Islands National Park), to hiking in the backcountry of Mount Revelstoke National Park, I’ve found many places of inspiration in our National Parks. When you try new ways to explore a National Park, you will always discover something new.

To summarize, nature has major impacts on our mental wellness. These impacts have led to the development of nature therapy, that is, using nature to treat illnesses, and Attention Restoration Theory:

 
  • Stress reduction
  • Increased attention
  • Increased positive affect (feelings)
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced anger
  • Reduced depression
 

To read more about the research behind nature and health benefits, check out Mood Walk’s article on the Nurture of Nature. Mood Walks is a program in Ontario which integrates hiking and nature to promote both physical and mental health via nature therapy. North in Focus recently led a workshop and gave a presentation at the Mood Walks Summit 2017 in Toronto!

Canada’s National Parks are places for you to explore and find yourself in the process; places for you to think of when you craft your dreams at night; places for you to remember how simple life is, although things can seem complicated.

Sunset from Cabin 1 (Sable) at Beausoleil Island, Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung.

Sunset from Cabin 1 (Sable) at Beausoleil Island, Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Photo courtesy of Teddie Leung.

So go out there; do your thing.

To read more about Derek’s trips to the National Parks of Canada, please check out his blog on the Parks of North America!

 

Welcoming Our New Board of Directors!

Eva Wu

North in Focus is excited to announce our new Board of Advisors (BoA) for 2017-2018! With years of experience in their diverse areas of expertise, Advisors will provide valuable guidance to NIF as an organisation and promote NIF’s future workshops.

The BoA consists of 6 Advisors: Melynda Ehaloak (Northern Advisor), Ocean Wyatt (Youth Engagement Advisor), Amelia Curran (Mental Health Advocacy Advisor), Ashlee Cunsolo (Wellness Advisor), Eric Foss (Media Advisor), and James Cummings (Finance Advisor). We passionately welcome our newest members to the NIF team!

You can find out more about our BoA and their profiles at our website. We look forward to another amazing year at NIF!

 
 

Sing

Eva Wu

 
Moo during the 2016 Nain in Focus campfire

Moo during the 2016 Nain in Focus campfire

 

At times in this busy world, it can be difficult to hear your own voice, let alone stand out amongst other voices. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in life; sometimes it is hard to remember who you are. As encapsulated in a speech during Nain in Focus, by Moo, an enthusiastic participant of Nain in Focus who remains a close friend of NIF, sometimes you just need to sing to be heard.

I’m happy to be here.
I believe you guys are awesome today.
In my journey I’ve learnt that life isn’t always easy, life is a struggle at many times but there’s always a chance to let it be easy and remember, believe in yourself and have courage and learn more and try to keep yourself busy. Life shouldn’t be so bad. Smile and lift yourself up and don’t be afraid. To those who are having a hard time in life, you just need to go for a walk and then take a deep breath. We need to hear your voice above all the other voices and above all the distractions in this world. Your words bring life and your voice speaks promises, your words bring love and light. Let’s share our love in this world.
There is no way for yourself to bring yourself down. If you feel like breaking down and crying, it’s okay to cry; you need to release that. I’ve written this because I’ve seen my friends feel the same way. I have hope and a golden heart. Open up your heart and let the sun shine in, tungasugitsi ammalu tungasutsiagitsi, meaning be open and welcoming.
I am proud of where I am today and you should be proud too. Everyone here has a lot of heart; don’t be afraid to shine. Thank you for listening so closely; it means so much to me… okay… sing.

~Simeonie (Moo) Merkuratsuk on the last day of the 2016 Nain in Focus workshops

 

NIF at Conferences

Eva Wu

In the past few weeks, NIF has had the opportunity to participate in two conferences: the Canadian Conference on Promoting Healthy Relationships for Youth (Feb 16-17, 2017 in London) and the Mood Walks Summit 2017 (Feb 25-26, 2017 in Toronto).

The first conference, the Canadian Conference on Promoting Healthy Relationships for Youth, hosted a series of talks in the area of relationship violence and mental health challenges. For more information, please visit their conference site here.

NIF ambassador Bailey Roe was inspired by the conference’s diverse mental health exposure:

The Canadian Conference on Promoting Healthy Relationships for Youth was an eye opening opportunity to look at the many facets that encompass mental health. The information that resonated with me the most was learning how your mental health as youth can influence your mental health growing up as an adult not only mentally, but physiologically. This reinforces why it’s so important to connect youth with the knowledge of mental health and create an open space to talk about it so they may understand how to develop positive mental health for themselves and each other. To experience an open and safe space to share our perspectives, experiences and hear about people’s incredible research on mental health is so fundamental and inspiring for North in Focus in order to share that knowledge and help others create an open space to learn more about mental health.

The second conference, Mood Walks Summit 2017, focused on the connections between mental health, nature and physical activity. Mood Walks is a provincial program which utilizes outdoor hiking programs to address mental health and well-being. There is a lot of research supporting this idea! If you would like to learn more about the research behind Mood Walks, check out their article on the Nurture of Nature! And for more information about the summit itself, visit the Mood Walks Summit page.

Gabrielle Foss, Co-Founder and Communications Coordinator of NIF, attended the two conferences along with NIF ambassadors Bailey Roe and Becca Cambridge. Below are a few words from Gabrielle about her experience at both conferences:

I was fortunate enough to be able to represent North in Focus at two conferences in the past month. They were excellent opportunities to learn a lot, and make connections with mental health professionals. Thank you to ambassadors Bailey and Becca for joining me!
At the Canadian Conference on Promoting Healthy Relationships for Youth in London, Dr. Vaillancourt began her keynote by reminding the audience that depression is the leading cause of disability in Canada. Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed in order to unlock the potential that lies within so many, unfortunately “we turn a blind eye when we don’t see a black eye”. Later in the conference, Dr. Rodger emphasized the importance of increasing mental health literacy in all community members, since there will never be sufficient formal resources. In her workshop about Inuit mental health, Dr. Morris spoke to the intense resilience and creativity that exists in Inuit populations due to the harsh environmental conditions in the North. She then outlined multiple Inuit-identified solutions to the current epidemic of mental illness, including the following: develop positive self-identity, promote healthy relationships, develop lay counselling and intervention skills, and involve all generations.
At the Mood Walks Summit in Toronto, NIF led a workshop during the pre-conference which consisted of a few of our staple workshop activities. And since the theme of the event was how getting outside benefits one’s mental wellness, the next day we presented about the importance of going off on the land in Inuit culture. Thanks to Ashley for helping us develop that presentation! Overall, the event was a blast. We had the opportunity to try our hands at graphic design, discuss the Nature Playbook, go for a skate, and participate in a Mood Walk along the waterfront. The Summit was an excellent reminder to prioritize spending time playing outdoors, and we’ll be sure to incorporate this lesson into future NIF programming.

Thinking Back to Nain

Eva Wu

Written by Eva Wu

Time. 

In most peoples’ minds there are the concepts of past, present, and future. There is a logical progression of events that occur one after another as the hands of a clock steadily ticks away in the background. 

In Nain, time didn’t seem to exist. 

Not for me at least.

Each class workshop passed with the blink of an eye but the flickering of bonfire flames gleamed forever. The logical tick of the globally calibrated clock no longer existed whilst our circadian rhythms ground to a standstill. Nain in Focus became a haven for which our connections and desires to build a stronger mental health community could flourish without the influence of the outside world. 

I became immersed in a world where all that mattered was the here and the now. Focus was on the youth and the community around me, learning about their values, their visions, and their needs. We as North in Focus became the facilitators for a mental health workshop that aimed to incorporate as many voices as possible, to mobilize youth for change that would last for the here, the now, but also the future.

 
Eva Wu Nain Trees
 

We laughed, we played, and we talked. We found power in our ability to connect with like minded youth with whom we were the same age. We reciprocated trust and experiences enabling us to truly touch the young hearts of Nain, so much so that discussion of stigma and health dove deeper than we could have ever imagined.

The emotions and discussions and activities dissolved as the week progressed, creating an amalgamation of past, present, future into individual memories. Memories so strong that they remain vivid in my mind to this day.

Memories of the mental health activities. 

Memories of the dances and games.

Memories of the ideas and dreams for the future.

Memories of hope.

In some words, it became the perfect environment to strike the hearts of youth to create common goals in order to spread Northern pride and end MH stigma. In some other words, it was litt.

If felt as though we had all the time in the world.

 
Eva Wu Nain Aerial
 

But just like that, it was all over. With our closing ceremony come and gone we had no choice but to bid adieu to the youth in Nain and part our separate ways. Constantly we were and still are told, “Our time was too short, you need to stay longer!” Though on a calendar we spent 8 days in Nain, most felt as though only an hour has passed. 

We forged connections and support systems that we feel could last a lifetime. As youth, we became stronger. As friends, we became closer. As an organization, we grew brighter. 

We were not without flaws but now we know how to become stronger. We aren't sure where our next destination lies nor what form North in Focus will take in the future, but we do know everyone would be overwhelmingly grateful to have another experience like Nain.

Only time will tell.

Words for #SantéQCHealth

Eva Wu

 
Eva Wu giving a speech on community care before the screening of the Northern Lights Kangiqsujuaq documentary © Stories for Humanity

Eva Wu giving a speech on community care before the screening of the Northern Lights Kangiqsujuaq documentary © Stories for Humanity

 

C'était une soirée magnifique au Musée McCord à Montréal. 

The organization Stories for Humanity had just completed their second magazine, #SantéQCHealth, and that night was set aside as the launch ceremony. The group is an international participatory media outlet leading public discussions about major social issues, with the present looking into "les enjeux du système de santé au Québec," or the issues in the Quebec healthcare system as some would say in English. 

Amongst the 200 people present at the event was Co-Founder Eva Wu and new NIF Ambassador Raphael Dury. Between listening to panel discussions and learning about the challenges people face when it comes to healthcare, the pair also shared the stories of North in Focus's role in patient care and resource implementation from a youth and community based perspective. Above all else, the team highlighted the messages of community consultation and Indigenous engagement. 

 
Ambassador Raphael Dury with Eva sharing their stories at the NIF booth © Stories for Humanity

Ambassador Raphael Dury with Eva sharing their stories at the NIF booth © Stories for Humanity

 

As the evening progressed the focus shifted to NIF. Following the 2016 Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights project in northern Quebec, the team knows how often mental health alongside northern community values are overlooked in a southern context, and Stories brought about a platform to discuss these issues. Eva took the stage to speak about the importance of spreading these messages to youth to bring light, positivity, and hope to tackle these problems. Heartstrings were even pulled in the audience as the Northern Lights documentary was screened. 

Questions poured in following the exhibition of the other world that is northern Quebec, opening up discussions about the injustices that are so greatly impacting the lives of northern inhabitants. Stories for Humanity has provided a collaborative platform for these conversations to form, and the team sees so much potential for development that could drastically change how mental health care is implemented. 

Nakurmiik, merci à Stories, et à toute à l'heure! 

Click here to visit the Stories for Humanity Facebook page and website to learn more or participate. Check out the piece on the Northern Lights Documentary in the #SantéQCHealth magazine.

 
The final product: #SantéQCHealth Magazines © Stories for Humanity

The final product: #SantéQCHealth Magazines © Stories for Humanity

 

Meet our Ambassadors!

Eva Wu

Recently, we began an ambassador program to help us reach more people and gain more perspectives. Here are the brief introductions to our wonderful ambassadors!

Fatima Ahmad

Fatima, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin and birth, has studied towards a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies. During her career, she has been fortunate enough to work in places like the Canadian Arctic, Vanuatu and Botswana and has completed academic exchange in Sweden. Her community involvement has varied from volunteering and organizing at the grassroots level to serving as steering committee members for regional and national committees. For her self-directed graduate program, Fatima is interested in looking at Islamic spiritual healing for those experiencing PTSD symptoms.

Becca Cambridge

Becca is from Orillia, Ontario and she is currently studying Environmental Science and Psychology at Western University. She chose to get involved with North in Focus because she is very passionate about mental wellness and how our outside environment can affect our mental health!

Carrie Davis

Carrie is a student at Western University currently pursing a degree in Health Science. Originally from Kirkland Lake, a small community in Northern Ontario, Carrie has a passion for the North, as well as the topics of mental health and wellness. She hopes to apply these passions to her role as an NIF Ambassador and would like to increase awareness and education on mental health amongst youth and communities in the North.

Raphael Dury

Raphael is a 21 year-old world traveller, actor, photographer and student. He was born and raised in Montreal, Québec. He is currently studying psychology at university. The organization North in Focus combines two things he is very passionate about: Photography and Mental Health.

Caitlin Gilchrist

Caitlin is a 16 year old from Ottawa Ontario. She's been involved in mental health awareness for a couple years and decided to get involved with North in Focus after her trips to the Arctic with the SEVEC exchange program and Students on Ice.

Cassie Jones

Cassie is a student at McGill University. Art has always been a way of forming identity and self-determination, coming together, healing and challenging ideas for her, and she shares that vision with North in Focus. Art has a place in bringing awareness to mental health issues and preventing suicide in Northern communities, and with the increasing rates of suicide there is a need for this issue to be recognized as needing the attention and collaboration of the wider Canadian community. Cassie hopes to bring her experience working in community art and activism, zine-making, filming and photography with youth around social issues.

Betty Star Kampayana

Betty Star is 21 years old. She is originally from Rwanda in Africa but came to Canada when she was 14 years old. She started taking deep interest in mental health at the age of 14. It struck her that for 14 long years she wasn't aware how interesting mental health was. There is still so much to do for this field of health and she knew she wanted to work in the healthcare system later in her life, she had to know her personal interests. Several years later, Betty Star is a student nurse and still deeply interested in mental health. She felt as though she was not showing her interest and desire to make a difference, and when she became aware of NIF, she felt she had to get involved!

Aingeshaan Kubendran

Ainge is from Toronto, but attends school in London, ON. He chose to work with NIF due to his passion for working towards creating a world where mental illness is not stigmatized, a world where someone can talk openly about their mental health without fear of coming across as weak. Facing a battle with your own mind every day is anything but weak. He wanted to get involved with NIF because it is an organization for him to get involved in mental health promotion and help people live optimal versions of their lives.

Derek Leung

Derek is currently studying Earth Sciences at Laurentian University. He spends most of his time throwing some rocks (curling) and keeping others (mineralogy). Through North in Focus, he hopes to understand more about mental toughness, whether it be applied on or off the ice. 

Joe McLeod

Joe is from a small town North of Toronto called Keswick. He is currently in his second year at Queen’s University doing a Medial in Film and Global Development Studies. He chose to get involved with North in Focus for a handful of reasons but one of the main aspects which caught his attention was the organization’s ambition and goal to raise awareness for issues effecting Inuit youth and the actual work they were doing to make these goals a reality. 

Malu Ostermann

Malu is 19 years old. She is from Sisimiut, the next biggest city in Greenland. She loves being outside as much as she loves staying inside and reading books. She heard about North in Focus through Facebook, and she was interested right away. She thinks that mental health is important to talk about and that the Northern communities need to focus and work with mental health.

Bailey Roe

Bailey was inspired to get involved as she learned the values that North in Focus encompasses in connecting with and empowering northern youth through combining art with mental wellness. These values align with her passion to learn and collaborate in developing ideas in building awareness and support of mental health through various positive creative outlets. Bailey is from Burlington, Ontario, but currently pursuing a dual degree in Kinesiology and Mechanical Engineering at Western University.

Didiane Shenge

Didiane is from Rwanda, currently living in Ottawa, Ontario. Her interest in North In Focus basically grew from an amazing experience she had last year in the Arctic with Students on Ice and her interest in the field of mental health. She is super excited to work with everyone!

Abhayjeet Singh Sachal

Abhayjeet is a fifteen-year old high school student living in Surrey. Apart from being an avid ice hockey player and pianist, he loves volunteering. After giving a TEDx Talk in 2013 and leading several initiatives in his school’s environmental club, Abhay took part in the Students on Ice 2016 Arctic Expedition. He became personally connected with issues concerning the Arctic and is now working on a campaign to bring awareness about climate change and suicide prevention. Because of his personal connection with many Inuit students on his Arctic expedition, he realized it was necessary to raise awareness about mental health issues: a goal that coalesces perfectly with NIF.

Nikisha Thapar

Nikisha is from Richmond Hill, ON. When she is not desperately trying to understand physics, she can be found campaigning for mental health awareness or watching British stand-up comedy. She is very passionate about raising awareness for Canada's Indigenous population as well mental health awareness and she sees North In Focus as an opportunity to help support both of these! She is so excited for this journey with NIF and what's to come!

Matthew Tran

Matthew is a 2nd year student at the University of Toronto studying Molecular Genetics and Pharmacology. He was born and raised in Toronto (the best city in the world), where he has been constantly exposed and interested in different cultures and communities. Suffering from depression himself, he has decided to take a more active role in aiding others. Knowing about the loss of culture and environment, as well as the suffering of the Northern Aboriginal peoples made him join NIF to more actively spread awareness and help in anyway he can.

Cassidy Ward

Cassidy is currently studying Medical Sciences at Western University. She wanted to get involved with North in Focus because she wanted to help to get rid of many of the negative feelings surrounding mental health. She agrees it’s incredibly important to talk about mental health and find different ways to practice self-care!

Haleh Zabihi

Haleh is from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. She chose to be involved with North In Focus because she is extremely passionate about the importance of mental health resources in the North. Living in Labrador exposed her to many of the issues its citizens are facing, and she is happy to have been given the opportunity to raise awareness for them.

Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights project featured in Makivik magazine

Eva Wu

An article by our videographer, Eric Foss, has been featured in Makivik magazine! 

Makivik Magazine in its paper format is delivered free of charge to all beneficiary households in all of the Nunavik communities and to a modest mailing list of private individuals, government officials, and interested media.

See below for the piece.

Nain in Focus Final Day

Eva Wu

Written by Gabrielle Foss

Our last full day in Nain began in a spectacular way. Jonathan took Patrick and I on a hike out of town, early enough in the morning that the golden sun glistened off the snow and shone through the trees. We picked berries, and rebuilt an inukshuk that had toppled at the top of the hill we climbed. It was a grand time, and an excellent opportunity to sit down and practice being present. Moments like these - spent in silence, in nature - are invaluable to allow the many thoughts and emotions that have come up this week to sort themselves out.

 

In the afternoon we visited the Level III class. It was sweet to be in a smaller class, where we could learn everyone’s names, and then pick on them to participate in the photography demonstrations. When going over the photography tips, one student really got into his character as the model, working it like a professional. This final in-school session felt very relaxed and smooth, the fourth time’s the charm I suppose!

 

After school, most enjoyed more sports in the gym, while some lent a hand to frame photos as thank you gifts and make a Nain in Focus sign for the closing event. Post-project surveys were distributed as another snack of Rice Krispy squares was enjoyed, and many of the feedback forms were handed back with kind messages asking us to come back! Next up was Onions & Orchids, one of my favourite reflection activities (originally introduced by James Raffan while on expedition with Students on Ice). Wednesday night’s bonfire was a highlight for many, myself included.

 

For half an hour before our dinner break, we handed out journals and introduced the art of writing for self-care. Ashley provided some of James Raffan’s “entry points” to get everyone started, and I led a free-writing activity. For four minutes, the youth were encouraged to write non-stop as I posed a series of questions including: what makes you happy, describe a time you felt alone, who did you reach out to for help or who could you reach out to in the future, who is a mentor of yours, and what makes you feel proud. Warm fuzzies were handed out before the closing event began later in the evening.

 

The incredible Ocean Wyatt served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event, which welcomed participants, their parents, and any other community member who wanted to attend. We showed a slideshow of photos from the week, the angajukKâk (mayor) of Nain spoke, the Labrador anthem was sung, there was a beautiful throat singing performance, and Simeonie (a workshop participant) spoke from the heart about thinking positively. Lastly, Ashley addressed the audience on behalf of the North in Focus team, thanking the various individuals and organizations for supporting the Nain in Focus workshop.

 

Cheers to:

-Megan Dicker, who spoke about using social media to spread positivity

-Christine Peddle, who talked about the benefits of counseling

-Jonathan Lidd, who encouraged his peers to go off on the land

-Danielle Baikie, who provided an overview of the impacts of intergenerational trauma

-Maria Merkuratsuk, who bravely shared her story of lived experience with mental illness

-And last but certainly not least, Kaila deBoer and the Nunatsiavut Government for funding this project, allowing us to bring an ambitious idea to life!

 

The night ended with games, a dance party, and bittersweet tears being shed as we all parted ways. Overall, the week was a great success. A core group of about 20 youth participated in the workshop, with one after-school gym session seeing 40 young faces. Over the course of the six days of Nain in Focus: many games of volleyball and ball hockey were played, countless cups of Tetley were consumed, candles were lit around a campfire, laughs and discussions were had, hundreds of supportive messages were written on post-it notes, and plenty of beautiful photos were taken. Nain will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope to someday return to “our beautiful land”, Nunatsiavut.

 

Lots of love and keep creating good days,

Gabi

Nain in Focus Post #6

Eva Wu

Written by Ashley Cummings

Friday, November 4th at 7:30pm at the Jeremias Sillitt Memorial Community Centre gym there will be a closing event for Nain in Focus with photos by participants being displayed and traditional throat singing and drum dancing

“Connection” is a word that ties into the many themes and activities explored today. It began with Craig Wyatt, a Level II youth that is an avid Nain in Focus participant, being very engaging with discussions relating to Ashley’s previous struggles with depression and ensuring that she knew that her struggles do not define her.

Inuit games are another activity that displayed the cultural connection that ties into mental health, developing deeper passion for Inuit culture while being active to promote self-care. While this allows for self-care and sport, it also allows youth to find others to connect with while playing the games that are embedded within culture.

Finally, one of the most deeply connecting aspects of Nain in Focus is our presentation by Maria Merkuratsuk. She shared her life story, touching on the many topics that we have developed over the course of our program. She shared the difficult times of her life as well as the good times, all the while praising the North for its endless beauty. She spoke about the people and things that gave her hope during hard times, likening difficulty to darkness and the hope as a candle. Everything can be seen with the candle and it gets one through the darkness.

Those present during Maria’s presentation gave her their complete attention, listening to her story and advice. The room was enveloped in love and it was deeply felt by each person within it. Connection was deepened between youth and Maria with attentiveness and gratitude exchanged between.

To cap off our evening, “warm fuzzies” were exchanged with youth writing personal notes to each other to show the love and connection felt between friends and family. With a sense of community building and connections deepening, love is felt throughout with many individuals admiring one another for their unique traits and interests. The relationships being developed further will continue strengthening with love, gratitude, and positivity and the entire NIF team is in awe for being able to witness such emotion.

Nain in Focus Post #5

Eva Wu

Written by Patrick Hickey

Elation

Another day has come and passed in Nain. Time never stops, and it always seems that when you are visiting a new place, the pace of time tends to snowball.  The first dozen hours move as slow as molasses, but before you know it, you’re rounding the final bend. 

As time zooms by, it is remarkable to notice just how much has happened while you were swept up in the movements of everyday life.  Friendships have been formed and memories have been made. With each new person who you meet, an exchange takes place. They leave a piece of themselves with you, as you do with them. This is the real form of education—of inter-personal intelligence—that will help you achieve success and happiness in life.

After a dense discussion on trauma (namely inter-generational trauma) took place today, all hands participated in a supportive activity that helped reinforce the idea of community in Nain.  Everyone was given a sheet with a name of another participant on it. From here, a compliment was written for each name, which was then read out loud by an arbitrary participant. The feeling of warmth that was floating around the room helped everyone understand just how important community can be. Community, family, hunting, fishing, throat singing, drum dancing, Inuktitut, getting out on the land: all of these things that the people of Nain love to do are integral to their holistic sate of wellness.

As throughout all of the towns in Newfoundland and Labrador, the people are really the highlight of any experience, and it’s no exception here in Nain.  Be it on a run to the Northern grocer, a visit to the school for a wellness workshop, or at a campfire with Nain in Focus participants as we enjoyed tonight, the minds, bodies and souls of everyone we have encountered so far this week really are what make Nain so very lovely. These people emit wisdom, kindness, hope, and happiness for the future, and it has been their warm embrace and openness that have lead to the successes that Nain In Focus have had, and will continue to achieve.

It seems like we just got here, yet we are leaving again in a few quick days.  While this somber thought is preferably ignored, it does provoke heed, and in reflection one can appreciate the progress that has been made over the past week.  Wide eyes and open ears have learned a lot about mental health and wellness after four days of programming.  Hundreds upon thousands of photographs and video clips have been captured with creativity.  Minds have been opened, words spoken, and conversations started and had. Through this and an awful lot more, the tight-knit community of Nain has perhaps become woven even closer together.

Patrick

Nain in Focus Post #4

Eva Wu

Written by Gabrielle Foss

ENain-9201.jpg

Today I experienced the fastest eight hours of my life. As the North in Focus team trudged down Nain’s main road en route to the school – still groggy after a long night of photo editing and program planning – we went over the schedule for the day. It would consist of a 2-hour class visit for the grade 7s and 8s, followed by 6 hours running activities in the JS Centre. And yet now I’m sitting at our kitchen table in the apartment, reflecting on all the important discussions that were had, and all the excitement that was generated!

The class visit began with the hand-up/hand-down activity, ensuring every student was aware they had a state of mental health. We then spoke about the applications of photography for storytelling, stigma reduction, and as a self-care activity. Two videos were shown, featuring the lived experiences with mental illness and substance abuse from Clara Hughes and Jordin Tootoo. Prior to watching those videos, the class brainstormed negative terms that are commonly associated with people who have a mental illness. These included words like “crazy”, “dangerous”, and “FAS”. However after hearing Clara and Jordin’s stories, we revisited the words and saw quite the opposite. People like Clara and Jordin - people who live with mental illnesses - are strong, brave, intelligent, and unique. On this, the whole class agreed.

The evening program included sports and a photo walk, and then Megan Dicker delivered a presentation encouraging her peers to use social media to spread positivity. I’ve personally benefitted from Megan’s uplifting Instagram posts sharing the joy of life’s simple pleasures, such as a cup of tea and a good book. We all use social media, why not use it for good? My heart swelled a few sizes as the participants wrote sticky notes to be posted on the wall around a central theme of Northern Pride (prompt question: what makes you proud, happy, or grateful).

As we all drank Tetley and munched on leftover Halloween candy, we discussed the difference between an Earache and a “Psychache”. You can’t see an earache, yet no one hesitates to talk to someone about it and reach for treatment. Yet when it comes to a mental instead of physical illness, people often keep their feelings bottled up. One goal of the Nain in Focus workshop is to change this response. Before breaking for dinner, the charismatic Christine Peddle (a local counsellor from Labrador-Grenfell Health) addressed the youth about the mental health resources available to them, and promoted a variety of coping skills.

From 7pm onwards, we had a blast decorating hats – an activity that brought in first-time Nain in Focus participants – and playing around with light painting. Good vibes all around as we danced and chatted into the night. Some participants were eager to provide feedback, so I’ll end this post with their words:

I think the workshop has fun activities, and nice staff, I’ll miss you guys. –Julie Obed
The workshop is a good thing to do because we get to do activities instead of people playing games, iPod, or watching TV. –Rae Dicker
The workshop is really cool, had a fun night tonight I really wish we can do this more often. -Sheila Angnatok Jr.
#bullsh*t word of the week. –Jonathan Lidd (in reference to the card game FYI)
I have not much to say but I can say that this week was amazing! Now I know that ill always be happy with everyone together to ensure a long life and so others will show an interest in helping you out when you’re alone.  I also learned this week that it is not good to avoid big problems by making a big issue out of small matters. Sapilittailigit-Don’t ever give up. I’ll see you guys again on the road, my name is moo, like the cow says (lol), first name Simeonie. I wish you all an enjoyable happy life. –Simeonie Merkuratsuk
I didn’t think everybody had a mental illness, mental health in them and its important to learn about the things that we don’t know. There is so much to learn. -Jonathan Lidd

Nain in Focus Post #3

Eva Wu

Written by Eva Wu

Lighting. Shutter speed. Color correction.

Those were the clicking through my mind as I dashed back and forth with my camera trying to capture the joy and excitement in the gym as volleyballs and basketballs flew through the air. An abundance of youth had flocked to the JS Centre Monday evening for the first official day of the Nain in Focus mental health workshops, regardless of the Halloween festivities that could have occupied their time.

My rush of enthusiasm was only augmented as the group moved outside to explore their newfound photography interests.The moments were magical. Golden Arctic sunshine bathed the laughing faces, as the group got their moment in the spotlight, each a subject of a paparazzi photoshoot as their peers began to handle our short supply of DSLR cameras for the first time.

Personally, this was a moment of pure joy. Joy just being outside hearing laughter fills me with a flood of warmth that greatly contrasts the brisk Nunatsiavut breeze. This got me thinking about the liberating impact the presence of nature can have on our social and mental health, ideas that were highlighted during our tea earlier in the day with Gary and Martin at the Torngat Mountains National Park office.

Gradually this activity translated back into the classroom, where Patrick gathered the participants into a discussion on spectrum through which mental health and illness can manifest in people’s lives. Highlighted was the idea that all individuals have mental health that have natural fluctuations regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness.

But those natural human fluctuations and illnesses are struggles that are so often stigmatized - regarded as issues that aren’t suitable for discussion amongst friends and family - thus abruptly bringing the conversation on management and recovery to a standstill.

With those ideas in mind the Nain in Focus group whipped out our signature bright yellow Post-It© notes and made our best efforts to bring about support amongst the individuals who could be impacted by our program. In English and Inuktitut we hashed out ideas and splattered them over the bright stationary. At the end of the workshops what lay in our hands were supportive and caring messages that could be incorporated into quick, shareable pictures for the community to see.

The youth ran around the gym, clicking away as they captured images of each other with the yellow Post-It© notes stuck to their fingers, images that we hope to share on social media in Nain, hopefully over Nunatsiavut, maybe even across Canada. We want to show people we can help. We want to show people we care. We want to show people we understand.

After hundreds of photos, the whole group was reminded of what lay beyond the Nain in Focus doors, as the skies grew darker and costume clad youngsters began dashing about. Soon, we all bolted to our respective dwellings to change into our night-time ensembles.

Now, spending Halloween in Nain was the absolute best way to end the day. We saw everything from self-inflating miniature polar bear suits to Crayola© boxes. Nearly everyone had some form of a costume, pulling the community together for such a unique holiday. Naturally the NIF team headed with the crowds to become a mobile sugar dispensing unit. Albeit, standing by the roadside waiting for children to pass by may not have given off the most magnificent first impressions, but every child and every parent had a smile plastered on their faces after getting a few pieces of candy in their hands.

Regardless of all our fatigue from endless planning to late night video editing to friendly meetups over tea, there has yet to be a time when our exhausted minds forget the gratitude and joy that has been instilled upon us from the beautiful, talented Nain.

Follow the workshop on Instagram @northinfocus and share your photos using #northinfocus

Nain in Focus Post #2

Eva Wu

Written by Ashley Cummings

Our second full day in Nain had a late start due to a late night. We had sat focused around the table in our kitchen, each of us doing a spectrum of homework, video editing, and writing. In the morning, we started with a team meeting outlining the days’ events. We felt a giddy excitement as we discussed the activities planned, and it only grew as we walked to the Jeremias Sillet Memorial Community Centre.


    We had a wonderful group of 15 people for our kick-off event, which began with games of volleyball and Gabi initiating games of Wa and Huckle Buckle. Loud laughs were shared as everyone enjoyed the silliness throughout the gym. The crew began introductions by sharing quirky and unique facts about ourselves, which was accompanied by tasty treats and followed by Eva’s three photography tips. These composition tricks included the rule of thirds (how dividing a photo into three makes it pleasing to the eye), framing (giving the viewer a window to look through), and viewing the subject from all angles to change your perspective.


    After our introduction to photography, we had an introduction of a different kind: to our mental health. Patrick lead a stand-up, sit-down activity with yes/no questions relating to awareness of mental health. This ensured that all participants realized that although they may not have a mental illness, everyone has a state of mental health that has to be cared for. This activity provides a solid foundation for the week of learning ahead of us.


    Finally, we concluded our program kick-off with games of volleyball and basketball, getting everyone active and connecting with each other further. The NIF team felt satisfied as we walked back to our apartment, where we spent plenty of time enjoying good food and good company as Kaila - a key figure in organizing Nain in Focus - joined us for dinner. Originally from British Columbia, Kaila has been in Nunatsiavut for four years and is a dedicated community member, working to better the community as a whole.


    As our first day of programming came to an end, the team sat and once again discussed our plan of action for the next session. Ashley is elated as she is able to provide something that she wishes she had access to as she was growing up. Happiness and thankfulness is felt by each of us for being able to run another program and reach more youth, combating stigma throughout.

Follow the workshop on Instagram @northinfocus and share your photos using #northinfocus