Northern Youth Abroad is a registered not-for-profit charity. Since 1998, it has provided education and travel opportunities for over 550 young people, aged 15 to 22, from every community in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The programs are designed to foster cross-cultural awareness and global citizenship, while building the self-confidence and self-esteem necessary to help develop life and career goals.
Northern Youth Abroad was inspired by a 1997 study that examined volunteer-based Canadian youth exchange programs. The study concluded that participants became more aware of their own culture and more likely to successfully pursue and attain their life goals. Together, the Nunavut Boards of Education, Nunavut Inuit Associations, and Crossroads International (an aid group) organized a pilot project. In 1998, ten young people from Nunavut went to experience five-week homestays with southern Canadian families. A year later, the same young people took on work 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 programming for young people. In 2005, it grew to involve youth from the Northwest Territories. The next year, therefore, its name was changed to Northern Youth Abroad.
Mission and Principles
Northern Youth Abroad (NYA) is led by a Board of Directors. Members of the Board bring a range of talent and experience to the organization, and many are NYA alumni. NYA has full-time staff and volunteers, both in the north and in southern Canada.
Northern Youth Abroad’s mission is: “to foster leadership, cross-cultural awareness, individual career goals, and international citizenship in the youth of the North. The program promotes success in education by providing life-changing experiences through volunteer work and travel.”
To pursue its mission, NYA has established guiding principles. Important among them is that the northern-focussed program serves the different needs of individual participants, as all develop a greater awareness and appreciation of their culture. Connections between current and past participants are celebrated with alumni playing roles in all aspects of the program. While the intention to invest in each participant’s individual growth is serious, the guiding principles remind all that the experience must be collaborative rather than competitive.
There are three core programs. The program to provide trips to southern Canada begins in October when applications are received, interviews take place, and participants are chosen. From February to June, participants are helped by local mentors to complete assignments in their home community. In July, they travel to Ottawa for a seven-day orientation camp. Participants are paired and placed with southern Canadian families for July and August. They do volunteer work that is geared to their individual interests and career goals. A reorientation camp takes place in late August. Fall assignments back in their home communities are completed by the end of October.
For some, that is the end of their engagement with NYA. Others, however, participate in Northern Youth Abroad Next. It is available to all those between 16 and 22 and who have participated in the southern Canada program. Participants are helped to design a program unique to their interests and goals and highlighted by a Personal Learning Project. Work is done throughout the traditional school year and is capped by a summer placement at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Participants use what they have learned to undertake a construction course and do more service-learning and volunteer work.
Some participants extend the Canadian or NYA Next programs with international travel. Past participants have travelled to many countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Eswatini, and Botswana. While there, they learn the value of global citizenship and more about their own culture by seeing it in context with others.
Another popular NYA program involves the granting of microgrants. Individuals, schools, and community organizations from the three territories can apply for grants up to $3,000 to support northern-based activities and projects that are led by or engage young people. Past grants have supported an ice fishing expedition in the Northwest Territories, a canoe trip from Fort McPherson, and a caribou tufting program in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The microgrant program allows young people to learn the value of connecting with the land, with traditional ways, and with each other and their community.
NYA’s Northern Youth in Service program offers support for young people in the territories who want to design a project of their own. It can be an individual project or one involving friends or at school or with youth from another community. Past projects have included hunting, sewing, and art.
NYA’s Northern Compass tutoring program connects those who need help in school with a face-to-face or online tutor. Tutors assist with a range of challenges including problems with a particular subject, study skills, editing an assignment, organization, or stress management. Tutoring is free of charge to any secondary or post-secondary student or those in a trade school or upgrading program. Young people from the territories can participate but they do not need to be living in their home community at the time to do so. The tutoring program is one part of the Northern Compass program. They also offer peer mentorship and support with school supplies, social events and more.
In May 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced it was withdrawing its financial support, right before the NYA’s summer programming was to begin. Generous donors stepped in so that the program could continue. Subsequently, the Trudeau government restored NYA funding through the Department of Culture and Heritage, International Experiences Canada, and Canada Summer Jobs. However, this accounts for less than two per cent of their funding. More financial support comes from the governments of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as well as a range of organizations. These include Kakivak Association, the Tachane Foundation, the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Apathy is Boring, and TD Canada Trust.