People & Culture

Q&A with winners of Arctic Inspiration Prize

  • Jan 20, 2015
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  • 4 minutes
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A unique education program in the Northwest Territories is kicking off 2015 with tons of momentum after winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize in December. The prize is a $1 million investment for FOXY (Fostering Open eXpression among Youth), a workshop based sex education program that helps young women navigate their sexual health. Candice Lys is the executive director of FOXY, and Nancy MacNeill is FOXY’s project coordinator. I spoke to both of them about their plans to expand their program for young women (13-17) across all three territories and to develop programs for young men and the LGBTQ youth community.

First, congratulations on winning the Arctic Inspiration Prize. How did you find out that you’d won?

Candice: The Executive Director for the Arctic Inspiration Prize called me three weeks before they made the announcement at the awards ceremony and let me know that we had won the entire million [dollar prize] and that I had to keep it a secret for three weeks until the award ceremony. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Nancy: Candice got the phone call at 9 a.m. telling her that we were the sole recipients of the million dollars. It was my birthday, so she brought a cake over to my house that morning and told me about it.

What was it like to watch the rest of your team find out at the award ceremony?

Candice: It was a little bit torturous to keep that secret for three weeks, but the looks on their faces and how excited they were made it was totally worth it.

Nancy: It was the greatest moment; they were so happy and we knew they would be. One of the best things about working with teenagers is the unbridled enthusiasm and energy when they’re really excited about something .

What inspired you to start FOXY?

Candice: I did my Master’s thesis research with young women in the Northwest Territories, which involved talking to them about sexual health. One of the things that kept coming up was that they didn’t feel that the current sexual health education program in the NWT was meeting their needs and that they wanted education that was more hands on, interactive and fun. So that was kind of where FOXY started.

Nancy: Candice and I met and we became really fast friends. At one point we started talking about our experiences in sex ed class and we realised that our experiences, while very different, had kind of left us unimpressed and not really armed with what we wanted to be armed with. We later realized how much more we could have known before navigating those murky waters of first relationships, first sexual experiences, all of that.

What challenges are there that northern youth face when it comes to sexual health?

Candice: The challenges have to do with access to sexual health education and resources and learning to party safely. Confidentiality is an issue that we often hear as well, with girls talking about how their aunt or their mom works at the health centre.

Nancy: The NWT has a rate of STI transmission and teen pregnancy [that’s] higher than the rest of Canada. All of the territories have a rate that is similarly high. Most of our communities are extremely isolated and very small which means there are limited travel opportunities, limited educational opportunities and in the case of an unhappy family life there aren’t very many options for improving that situation. FOXY wants to help provide education to break those cycles.

What will 2015 bring for FOXY? What kind of research do you have planned?

Candice: FOXY started as my project for my PhD research and all of it is a participatory action research project. Moving forward we’re looking at doing longer term cohort studies of following FOXY participants over a longer period of time and looking at how FOXY has influenced them and the decisions that they make. Currently we’re continuing to do workshops and peer leader retreats with young women, but we’re also moving into working with youth of all genders across the three territories.

Nancy: Later this year we’ll be starting to do program development for our FOXY for Boys program. We’re also starting to research the needs of the LGBTQ community in terms of sexual health education that’s less hetero-normative.

How will FOXY be different for young men?

Candice: I feel like the arts that we use to reach young men might be different then the arts that we use to reach young women. Everything that we do from now on we’ll be in working with a male facilitation team so they’ll be leading that aspect of it.

Nancy: As a woman that grew up in the NWT I feel confident talking to young northern women about the issues that they face because I grew up in that context. I think that we have a lot to learn about the stories of young men that grew up in the NWT and around the north and seeing what their specific needs are going to be for a sexual health education program. Our model is just using the arts to communicate about respect, equality, communication, and healthy decision making and I think that those are universal principles that can be shared with everybody.

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