Friday, 27 September 2013

From Norway House to New York

By Rachel Bach, 2nd Cohort

Rachel Bach (L) and Alison Everitt (R)

My first field placement has come to an end and I am now back in Winnipeg and back to classes. I had a great time in Norway House and I definitely learned a lot. We had the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks and projects; like the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, Steps & Stages, the Summer Activity Camp for Special Needs Children, Norway House Celebrates Moms and Babies, among others. I will always remember my time in Norway House fondly and I have a new appreciation for my coursework now that I have some experience on the practical side.

As part of our field placement, we attended two research summits; on in Norway House and one in Winnipeg. Dr. Roberta Woodgate had recently completed a 5 year study in Norway House and was presenting on the findings. Her study was entitled: Understanding the Disability Trajectory of First Nation Families of Children with Disabilities. The study revealed that the families of children with disabilities have many needs that are not adequately addressed and that parents struggle due to a lack of resources and services in the community. In our talks with the community, we learned that this has been an issue for many years and is largely due to jurisdictional disputes. The provinces will not fund services in the community because First Nation’s are a federal responsibility, but the federal government will not fund these services as healthcare is a provincial responsibility. The families and individuals are the ones that suffer as a result. Families of children with disabilities are left with four options. Firstly, families can place individuals in institutional care, which is costly and would likely be away from the community. Secondly, the entire family can relocate to larger urban centers to access services – in the case of Norway House they would likely be relocating to Thompson [a three hour drive from Norway House] or Winnipeg [an eight hour drive from Norway House]. A third option is to remain in the community with no or few services. The final option for families of children with Special Needs is to give up your parental rights to the child and give your child up to Child and Family Services in order to give the child access to services. Regardless of the option chosen, individuals and families still face exclusion through isolation, marginalization, and complex daily challenges. This is further compounded by the endemic levels of poverty, lack of access to health care, limited social services, and restricted educational opportunities that are characteristic of First Nations across the country. These issues expand to adults with special needs and their families. Children are eligible for some services through the education system. However, one they “age out” of the system, there is nothing available to them in the community.  

Andrea Folster is the manager of the Home and Community Care Program in Norway House. She wants to open up a home for adults with special needs in the community. The idea is use the current Phillip Evans Memorial Home. Ali and I worked with Andrea to create a proposal to do so. The proposal is currently under review. This was an exciting project to be apart of, as it is a community-based solution to a self-identified gap; this is what development practice is all about!

When Ali and I saw the call for abstracts for the First Annual Conference on Sustainable Development Practices we thought that it would be a great opportunity to share with the MDP community about our experience in Norway House and to highlight what they are doing. The people in Norway House had expressed that it can be difficult being so remote and that it is easy to feel isolated. It was nice to be able to share their story and to represent Canada at the conference.

International Conference on Sustainable Development
Presenting at the conference was a great experience. We were able to network with like-minded others. It was nice to meet students from the other 24 programs. We met students and faculty from Sciences Po, Lund University, Columbia University, the University of Waterloo, Berkley, University of Minnesota, Universidad de Los Andes, and more. There were also representatives from the private and non-profit sector, which was a great opportunity to see how they relate to the academic world.

Overall, it was great experience and I would strongly recommend other students to submit abstracts on their projects next year!

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