Call of the north helps dream come alive

  • August 25, 2013

TORONTO - Pamila Jesuthasan knows teaching is her vocation. Because of this, she took a leap of faith by moving more than 2,000 kilometres away from the comforts of her Toronto home to the isolated village of Ivujivik, Que.

After graduating from teacher’s college, Jesuthasan — who has an undergraduate degree in sociology and religious studies — could not find work as a teacher, like many of her fellow graduates. So, after seeing a posting for full-time work in Quebec’s Arctic region on the Education Canada web site, she decided to take a chance last September to make her teaching dreams a reality.

“It’s life altering,” said Jesuthasan, who attended Madonna Catholic Secondary School. “You’re losing all your family and friends and all the conveniences and comforts.”

Jesuthasan has headed back north for her second year at the approximately 190- student Nuvviti School teaching Grades 7, 8 and 9.

“I’m really happy I made the move,” she said. “But there was a lot of emotions to go through.”

A cradle Catholic, she turned to her faith while adjusting to the radical lifestyle change without her tight-knit family and no sense of familiarity in her new surroundings.

“In the beginning, I prayed the rosary twice a day,” said Jesuthasan, 27. “It really helped a lot… It helped me meditate and calm my thoughts and emotions.”

There’s no Catholic church in the village, but there is an Anglican one, she said. However, since the Mass is said in Inuktitut, it’s very hard for her to understand.

To combat the isolation that accompanies the long hours of darkness, she bought a dog. Phoebe — who is part Siberian husky and part Samoyed — helped her immensely.

But while it’s a lonelier life in many ways, there is a strong sense of community in the village, she said.

“When a teacher calls in sick, it is announced on the radio so that the students do not walk to school. One day, I called in sick at 8 a.m. and got a message at 9 a.m. from someone in the village asking if I was OK.”

Classes in the Kativik School Board are a little different than in Ontario. The boys and girls are separated to take boy’s culture and girl’s culture classes, where they are taught important skills such as hunting and knitting, she said. They also take Inuktitut language classes as the region of Nunavik is the official homeland of the Inuit of Quebec.

While Jesuthasan doesn’t teach these classes, she is getting a lot of experience teaching a variety of subjects including math, English, geography, science and art.

In her daily work, the biggest challenge she faces is lack of motivation from students. And sometimes, students will break down and start crying because of issues at home, she said.

“My patience gets tested greatly and I think that will help when I’m back in the south.”

On a daily basis, working with the students is also very rewarding, she added.

“The students take note of the smallest detail so if you are trying your hardest, they will notice. They hang onto every word that you say.”

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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