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Actua camper returns home as instructor

Actua's summer STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) camps helped plant the seed that will yield a young doctor for Nunavut when Fatima Awan makes her childhood dream come true.

photo courtesy of Actua
Iglulik Actua campers Robert Kappianaq, left, Beverly Amaaq and Evelyn Eve Qauraq surround instructor Fatima Awan – Awan was herself a participant at the science, technology, engineering and mathematics camp in her home community of Iglulik and is now on the road to becoming a doctor.

Awan attended her first Actua camp in Iglulik as a youth, after she moved to the community in April while in Grade 5.

"I was 12. It was my first time (at camp). I attended with my brother who is just two years younger than me. It was just an amazing lot of fun, and the next time it was here I was 13. I was actually too old for it, but they were able to make an exception," said Awan, whose father is a wildlife biologist for the Government of Nunavut.

This year, Awan is a camp instructor in her home community. She recalls her experience as a camper.

"At that time I didn't really know a lot of kids in the community," she said. "I didn't know kids that well. So getting in the camp, I got to know the community more, knowing the kids more. We played together. It was just a lot of fun."

She says the science activities made learning fun.

"Concepts such as osmosis – it never looked cool until you see a gummy bear grow big in the water," she said.

Jenifer Spencer, Actua's senior manager of education and outreach, says the organization is constantly creating new curriculum and activities.

"A lot of new content but with a lot of the same familiarity that kids would be used to, so we're creating that safe space where there are things they can latch onto and remember from last year. We're building on that from year to year," Spencer said.

When she was at camp, Awan thought the instructors were cool, as an instructor she says it's actually the campers who are cool.

"As a camper, I always felt like I was learning so much and I looked up to the instructors as such inspiration and now as an instructor I see the kids as the big inspiration. They get so creative, the way they think, the way they approach different problem. So it's actually them inspiring me, which is such a total surprise because as a child I looked up to the instructors so much," said Awan.

And Spencer says that one of Actua's goals, to nurture innovation.

The camp also helps youth to think about their own communities from a science perspective, while incorporating the community's knowledge into the curriculum.

"We really want the campers to understand that STEM is already in their community all around them. And there's people in their community with those skills and knowledge to share with them," said Spencer, adding the first activity at camp is community mapping – kids take instructors around the community and share their own knowledge right away.

Awan has now completed her third year of university, taking biochemistry and biotechnology, and has wanted to be a doctor as long as she can remember.

Her goal is to return to Nunavut when she's completed her schooling to be a doctor.

"When I tell the kids, 'I was an Actua camper just like you,' their face … it lights up. The way they smile. They can be, 'Oh, I can be an instructor, too.'"

Awan also taught campers in Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, Hall Beach, Qikiqtarjuaq, and, this week, Cape Dorset, on her first tour as an instructor.

Spencer says Actua is seeing more campers becoming instructors. Specifically, the organization counts Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) among its many partner educational institutions, and has hired instructors from its student body. There are no Inuit instructors this year.

"We definitely see value and impact when we hire locally as much as possible, and have had Inuit instructors so they can be role models and leaders for the youth. Some of their (NS) students were Actua campers," said Spencer.

"We did have plans to include a few of them (this year), but they made the decision to stay in their home communities, which I do understand if they've been out of their home community all school year. We're always learning, to make the position more workable and more inviting for Inuit instructors."