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Volunteers essential for Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline, says founder

Kamatsiaqtut, meaning thoughtful people who care, is the name for Nunavut’s helpline.

Kamatsiaqtut, meaning thoughtful people who care, is the name for Nunavut’s helpline.

Providing anonymous and confidential counselling, it’s a place where Nunavimmiut can talk to an open-minded and non-judgmental ear during times of crisis or ongoing personal problems.

Aside from a few positions with honorariums, the Kamatsiaqtut Helpline is run entirely by volunteers.

“We would not be a helpline without its volunteers,” said Sheila Levy, one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline.

Alongside others, Levy helped found the Kamatsiaqtut Helpline on January 15, 1990. Within its first year they had received over 400 phone calls, according to her, it was and still is a much needed service.

Having first moved to Nunavut in 1978, Levy worked as a teacher, first living in Pangnirtung, then Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay before settling down in Iqaluit, where she experienced the wide-reaching impacts suicide can have on people.

“Four young men I taught in Pangnirtung, I hadn’t seen them in probably five, six years and in the next year or so, (they) died by suicide in quick succession,” said Levy. “It was truly devastating to know these young men wouldn’t be around to make a difference in this world,” she added.

By the late 1980s, Levy noted there were still a lot of suicides happening in Nunavut.

“There was a lot of brainstorming around as to what can be done about this,” said Levy.

The idea for a crisis or helpline came up. Levy, with a past background of volunteering at the Ottawa Distress Centre took up the job.

Levy spent much of the year prior to Kamatsiaqtut opening training people and putting together a “training package that was culturally relevant, but also seen across Canada in other helplines.”

She adds volunteering at a helpline isn’t like volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank, or other areas people volunteer for, navigating difficult conversations in particularly vulnerable moments.

“What we do is extra, it’s not an easy volunteer job. It’s difficult and to me it really shows the dedication of our volunteers,” said Levy.

“It makes me really happy to be a volunteer,” said Natalie D’Souza, who currently volunteers for the helpline in Iqaluit.

“It’s so hard to navigate those feelings alone. To me, it’s a gift when someone lets you in and shares their innermost thoughts and feelings. There is a strong feeling of connection to this other person on the other end of the phone,” D’Souza added.

Since 1990, the Kamatsiaqtut Helpline has expanded to Nunavik, made the hotline toll-free and has partnered up with the Ottawa Distress Centre, where Levy used to volunteer, to offer 24/7 support.

Kamatsiaqtut has also advocated for and partnered up for the establishment of Nunavut’s 211 service, a non-emergency public information and referral service for Nunavummiut to social, community, mental and government support. Kamatsiaqtut currently has around 75 volunteers.

The motto for the helpline is ‘helping others help themselves’, something D’Souza encourages in people who call the helpline. Either locally at 867-979-3333, or toll-free at 1-800-265-3333.

If you need someone to talk to, the volunteers at the Katmatsiaqut Hotline say they are there to help.