Nunavut Arctic College is partnering with Memorial University in Newfoundland to offer a bachelor of social work program and Taloyoak’s Anna Wolki plans to be among the first through the door.
Wolki was one of nine recent graduates of a social work diploma program in Cambridge Bay.
“I really like to think that I love helping people, especially those with mental health needs,” she said, adding that her mother worked at a women’s shelter in Taloyoak while she was growing up, “so that’s what inspired me.”
Wolki said her first couple of years of courses taught her that others can handle life’s challenges in an entirely different way than she does and not to be judgmental of those who are addicts.
“I would think it would be so easy to just stop (abusing alcohol), but it really showed me how it can all lead to trauma and how intergenerational trauma was passed down to them. It really brought me to the point of why they are doing that,” she explained.
She also has a better understanding of harm reduction, such as addicts weaning off of alcohol rather than expecting them to stop immediately, which could result in side effects such as seizures from withdrawals, she said.
Now Wolki plans to spend the next year and a half enrolled in the new social work degree program in Cambridge Bay. Depending on how that goes, she may complete the last several months of her degree studies at Memorial University. There’s behavioural and cognitive theory that she’s eager to absorb, and she also hopes to send a message to other prospective students around the territory as she furthers her education in social work.
“I really want to be a role model. I really want to encourage Nunavummiut to recognize that they can further their education and so much opportunities will be available to them,” she said. “I want to… inspire others to do it too.”
Opportunities were plentiful for Wolki just this summer. She had five job offers to consider and accepted a summer position at the mental health facility in Cambridge Bay.
Her path to post-secondary learning wasn’t clear cut. She became a mother while in high school and it delayed her graduation by years. In order to enrol in the social work diploma program, she and some other students shared parenting duties with their spouses and her son also reached an age where he could attend school. Others were able to take advantage of a daycare subsidy available through the territorial government.
One of her classmates completed the program with three babies, she added.
“So having children or being a young mother doesn’t stop you from being successful,” she said.
Her cohort also had to contend with the emergence of COVID-19 in March of 2020, which meant that lessons had to move online. That was initially frustrating, Wolki admitted, but things became easier after a while.
“I think we adjusted to it really well,” she said.
By January, the students were able to resume face-to-face learning.
“It was just so good to see everyone,” said Wolki, noting that Plexiglass barriers were installed in the classroom to keep the students safe.
Because social work often entails substantial stress due to working with individuals in traumatic situations, Wolki said students learn that it’s important to practise self-care. When she’s feeling the strain, she’ll immerse herself in relaxing music or engage a close friend in conversation, she said.
GN commits $1.8 million
The social work degree program is being made possible due to a three-year, $1.8 million contribution from the Government of Nunavut (GN).
“The inclusion of Elder perspectives and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in this two-year program set to be delivered in Cambridge Bay also means future Inuit social workers graduates will be well prepared to incorporate Inuit societal values in their future social work practice,” said David Joanasie, minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College (NAC).
The GN noted that expansion of the social work degree program to other Nunavut communities remains a possibility for the future, as does the goal of having NAC offer its own independent, accredited bachelor program in social work.