Volunteering in Northern Canada


Northern Canadian student Carmen

Jana Kasparova, a Cuso International volunteer in Tuktoyaktuk,  Northwest Territories since 2016, has been supporting the e-learning program at Mangilaluk high school to help increase graduation rates in the community.

Like many Cuso International volunteers who venture to Northern Canada, Jana was drawn here by a long fascination with the North and a strong sense of adventure.

Jana came to Canada from her native Czech Republic in the summer of 2016, and as a former English teacher and lifelong traveller, it wasn’t long before the opportunities presented by a volunteer placement with Cuso International had her leaving her job on a Toronto food truck, and on her way to Tuktoyaktuk to work as an e-learning monitor.

“My first morning here, I saw the Northern Lights,” says Jana. “The long dark takes some getting used to, but when this is the reward, it’s worth it.”

The e-learning program at Mangilaluk school gives local students a better chance to pursue a university or college degree. Prior to the program, only one or two students from a school of 200 generally chose to continue their post-secondary education; now, that number is four to five students, and more and more are seeing the possibilities beyond high school. This means more graduates returning to their communities with new skillsets.

With her background in teaching, and a keen interest in all aspects of communication (public speaking, arts and crafts, drama, photography, etc.), Jana quickly saw a place for her to expand her involvement in the community beyond the e-learning program. She began helping out with other classes at the school, and with after-school activities like library arts.

Eventually, she started a photography club. She applied for a government grant to support the club, and started teaching the fundamentals of the art to her students. Soon, it was time to test their mettle against their peers across the North in Skills Canada’s annual Regional Territorial Skills Competition.

The Skills Competition is a two-day event in Yellowknife that brings young people together to compete in a broad range of skills, from cooking to the trades to sewing.

Carmen Kuptana, who placed second in the photography contest this year, credits Jana with getting her involved and keeping her interest in photography growing.

“I was always taking photos with my iPod as a little kid. It helped me to think about what was happening in life, and to show how I feel,” says Carmen.

The formal training and better equipment provided by Jana’s program took it to another level for Carmen. “There are better cameras, and I learned what makes a good picture and how to edit.”

Getting to see how her photos measured up to others in the competition naturally provided for some nervous moments, but Carmen says it was also very rewarding to show off her artistry and feel the pride that comes with a job well done.

Carmen plans to continue her post-secondary education in Calgary, but before that, she wants to travel with her friends and see other places. Of course, she’ll be documenting it all with her new skills built with the help of Jana and her Cuso International connections.