• Sunrise in Botswana. (Photo: Creative Commons.)

Trina Qaqqaq (left). (Photo: Courtesy of Northern Youth Abroad)

Two years ago Trina Qaqqaq, a 17-year-old Inuit girl from Baker Lake, Nunavut, travelled to Botswana as part of a delegation from Northern Youth Abroad, an Ottawa-based, non-profit organization that gives young people living in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories the opportunity to work on community development projects in Africa.{break} Leaving her village of less than 2,000 people and navigating the bustling airports of Montreal, Paris, France, and Johannesburg, South Africa, was an education in itself. It wasn’t until she began her volunteer work rebuilding a burned-out daycare in Botswana and helping African children living with HIV/AIDS, however, that she realized how life-changing her experience with NYA would be.

“In our placement community in Botswana there wasn’t any running water, but the people were still happy and thankful for what they had,” says Qaqqaq. “It made me look at life differently, to appreciate the things we take for granted in Canada, even in a place like Baker Lake that sometimes seems like it doesn’t have much either.” She was also touched by the friendliness, warmth and wide-eyed curiosity of the African children she worked with. “There was one girl who wanted me to sing,” she recalls. “I asked her why, and she said she just loved the sound of my voice, so different from hers.” Today, Qaqqaq is enrolled in college in Prince Edward Island (80 per cent of Northern Youth Abroad participants graduate high school, and many go on to post-secondary educations) and has set her sights on becoming an NYA facilitator, because she wants to help orient new cohorts of volunteers. “I’d love to stay involved in NYA, and to keep working with kids in Africa,” she says. “I recommend the program to everyone I meet. It’s amazing.” Indeed, it offers a unique opportunity for youth in Canada’s isolated Arctic villages to connect with a larger global community — and to improve both themselves and their home communities based on their newfound experiences. For more information on Northern Youth Abroad, visit nya.ca.

This is the latest in a continuing blog series on polar issues and research presented by Canadian Geographic in partnership with the Canadian Polar Commission. The polar blog will appear online every two weeks, and select blog posts will be featured in upcoming issues. For more information on the Canadian Polar Commission, visit polarcom.gc.ca.