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Training Inuit for Tourism Jobs

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The government of Nunavut recently organized a pilot program to train Inuit in a variety of skills that will qualify them as guides for adventurous tourists. The course, which lasted for two weeks and ended November 4, taught 5 men and 5 women such skills as piloting zodiacs from cruise ships, making landings in indigenous communities, and monitoring bears that might threaten visitors at heritage sites and during hiking excursions.

A view of polar bears on an ice flow, Northwest Passage Cruises with One Ocean Expeditions

A view of polar bears on an ice flow, Northwest Passage Cruises with One Ocean Expeditions (Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Robert Comeau, a 23-year old from Iqaluit, told Nunatsiaq News that he had been employed as a cultural interpreter on a cruise ship sailing through the Northwest Passage this past summer. He was deeply impressed with the historic sites they visited but he ended the voyage with a desire to do more. “As a young Inuit man, you want to be helping drive the boats, you want to be helping watch for bears, stuff you grew up doing, and get paid for it,” he said. He believes that people may come for the icebergs and polar bears, but “they remember the people when they leave.”

Completing the pilot program should allow him to do more guiding. Organized by the Nunavut Department of Economic Development and other government agencies, the program included first aid, marine emergency activities, using a VHF radio, handling firearms, operating small boats, and safety training. Randy Pittman from the Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium, one of the sponsoring agencies, told the news service that all the training programs meet accepted industry standards.

A portrait of a young Inuit woman

A portrait of a young Inuit woman (Photo by tsaiproject on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Mr. Pittman added that the adventure tourism industry has, at present, an estimated 40 to 60 jobs available for young Inuit men and women. He said that while the recent coursework was all done in a classroom environment, in the future they’d like to be able to include more practical training sessions. There are about 50 people enrolled on a waiting list for future sessions of the course.

The Crystal Serenity, a large luxury vessel carrying over 1000 passengers, sailed through the Northwest Passage during the latter half of August last year. It made several stops in Inuit communities along the way and it gave wealthy passengers views of the Arctic coast and lots of ice. The news coverage of the voyage raised awareness of planners in Nunavut as to the realities of hosting mass tourism.

“Are we actually ready for this kind of thing?” asked Andrew Orawiec, a senior adviser for tourism development of the government of Nunavut. He said that it makes a better impression on the tourists when the guide tells them that his or her grandfather was born at the place they are visiting. Parks Canada, the Canadian government agency that manages the national parks, is also concerned about fostering economic development in communities that are near their properties.

A spokesperson for that agency, Munju Ravindra, told the news service that they are concerned with places that are near protected areas, such as Gjoa Haven, the community that is nearest to the sunken ships of the Franklin Expedition. Parks Canada developed an internship program along with Adventure Canada, a cruise operator, to train young Inuit in skills they will need in working with the hospitality industry. The report in Nunatsiaq News made it clear that training young Inuit for jobs in the growing tourist business is a priority for several agencies.

 

Innovative Semai Learning Center

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A community learning center in Malaysia serves to integrate, for some Semai children, formal academic classroom subjects with lessons about their traditional culture. A school day might begin with instruction in reading, writing, and math presented by their teacher, but it would be followed by the fun of learning to play the chentong, a musical instrument, or performances of a traditional dance called the sewang.

The town of Raub is fairly near Kampung Tual

The town of Raub is fairly near Kampung Tual (Photo by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

A Malaysian news service last week published a report about the learning center, located in Kampung Tual, near the town of Raub in Pahang State. It focused on the values the staff members are trying to convey to the Semai kids. Called the Cenwaey Penaney, meaning “shoots of ingenuity” in the Semai language, the learning center serves about 100 children from two settlements in Kampung Tual known as A and B. It was opened in April 2014.

The leader of Kampung Tual A, Harun Siden, told the reporter that it was essential for the youths to understand their roots and their Semai identity. “Otherwise, they won’t know or they will forget who they are,” he said. He also serves as one of the teachers at the center most afternoons. He teaches the history, culture, and language of the Semai, along with sharing folk stories. He frequently holds his classes outdoors.

Some Semai children gathered around a big rock

Some Semai children gathered around a big rock (Photo by tian yake on flickr, Creative Commons license)

The week before last, Harun took a group of kids to a riverbank where he told them one of the village folktales about a big rock. He told the journalist that the lessons he presents help instill in the children a stronger sense of self confidence, which he argued they will need when they leave the village. When they attend the local school, which is not in Kampung Tual, they sometimes are bullied and teased. “They don’t know how to defend themselves and they want to run away [from school]. We must teach them to defend themselves. They should not run,” he argued. As a child he was teased about his Orang Asli heritage.

The community center in Kampung Tual was started by a staff member of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, a Temuan woman named Jenita Engi, and the current teacher, Miwes Masital. According to Dr. Colin Nicholas, the Coordinator of COAC, Jenita got a diploma in early childhood education and wanted to start a bi-cultural program in an Orang Asli community. They took her idea to the Semai in Kampung Tual and, after several meetings, the people “embraced the idea,” Nicholas said. At first the initiators just proposed a preschool but it has since grown to include children ages 2 to 15.

The Semai use the crushed leaves of Blechnum orientale, a wild native herb, as a medicinal preparation to help heal abscesses

The Semai use the crushed leaves of Blechnum orientale, a wild native herb, as a medicinal preparation to help heal abscesses (Photo by Lauren Gutierrez on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Nicholas told the reporter that it was important to adapt the academic curriculum to the perspectives and needs of the Semai. He added that similar programs have been started in other Orang Asli communities—the program in Kampung Tual is not the first. Jenita did the work to develop the structure of the school program to suit the perspective of the community. It was her decision, after talking with the villagers, to incorporate units on medicinal plants, folk tales, and traditional crafts in the curriculum.

Nicholas explained that the pedagogy of the Semai is quite different from that of mainstream Malaysia, where a geography teacher teaches geography and a science teacher teaches science. In contrast, in Kampung Tual, the village and the school are one and the same. Everybody teaches—elders, parents, and relatives. Anyone with a particular knowledge or skill will pass it along to all the children of the village.

A large group of Semai children

A large group of Semai children (Photo by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The community center was built by the people of Kampung Tual, with quarters for staff, a few classrooms, and a library. The students are given a daily meal in the facility. The center is staffed by three teachers, two assistants, two kitchen helpers, and a gardener. It is not intended as a replacement for the state-supported school but rather as a learning center that supplements it. It serves the needs of students in ways that the general school can’t do.

A nearby schoolteacher visited the learning center three or four months after it opened and she quickly spotted a difference in the children. They were more willing to participate, to talk, and to speak up She was curious as to why the change. After Nicholas analyzed the change, he decided that the major issue was one of trust—the kids trust the staff. “They trust their teachers because the teachers are from their own village or people they know,” he said.

Carrying water to a Semai garden

Carrying water to a Semai garden (Screenshot from the video “Orang Asli Struggle for Land Rights, by Malaysiakini TV, Creative Commons license)

And it was the children who suggested the idea of growing vegetables at the center. They came up with the plan when it was explained to them that funds were running low. Miwes told the reporter that the children help the gardener in the vegetable patch. He added that the center is running short of funds since the major funding agency has ended its sponsorship. The Center for Orang Asli Concerns would doubtless appreciate hearing from readers who might have insights into sources of funding for the innovative community center and its school program.

In July 2014 some news stories focused on the opening of the community center in Kampung Tual a few months before. A very prominent sports figure, at the time the world’s foremost woman squash player, Nicol David, visited Kampung Tual.

She was quoted as saying about the community, “The villagers have been so warm and welcoming. They are so open and willing to learn. You can see that they’ve got so much potential and that if we were to just give them a little bit of support, they would then go the extra mile.” It is clear that her prediction was correct—they are going the extra mile for their school and its approach.

 




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