I have just returned to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories after a very successful 10-day SMASH (Strength, Masculinities & Sexual Health) program & retreat in the deep Northern wilderness with 21 boys, aged 13-17 years old from across Nunavut & the Northwest Territories.

I was asked to deliver a 5-day Digital Storytelling workshop, as an opportunity for the boys to learn Digital Literacy skills, while addressing their own identities, past experiences, and plans for the future through video production.  I was thrilled to participate in such a progressive and important program led by such a cool team of sex educators, mental health support workers and other powerful support staff including our dear Chipewyan Elder, Setsuné Dragon.

The retreat took place at the remote and beautiful Blachford Lake Lodge, allowing us all to disconnect from our phones and the internet to fully engage with each other and the lessons of the day.  Topics and activities covered throughout included: how to demonstrate leadership in your community, information about STI, HIV and Hepatitis C transmission, the importance of consent, what healthy relationships looks like, sharing circles, drumming, photography, and swimming in the beautiful Blachford Lake. 

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The Digital Storytelling Workshop began with viewing previous examples of work created by NWT youth, a discussion about what a Digital Story was, and what responsibility we have as media creators to source our material ethically and responsibly.  We then brainstormed our own Digital Story ideas, which helped us complete storyboards for the final project.  Photos we wished to include were taken with iPads of each other and our surroundings, which then led to editing using iMovie.  A new and cool addition to our workshop included a GarageBand app tutorial led by one of the boys, which allowed many to create their own cool music tracks!  Others chose to drum, or play guitar.  Below is an example of one of the Digital Stories created by 15 year-old Anthony Kyikivichik, from Aklavik, NWT. 

Our days were packed with experience, learning, sharing, playing, active-time, and creativity.  As the days went by, the retreat staff and I were able to witness some pretty considerable growth in the participants' behaviour, including their retention of the sexual health education.  (Educator tip: turn anything into a competition, and they will get into it!)

This workshop experience is one I will surely never forget for the rest of my life.  As wonderful as it is to be facilitating a program like SMASH, there is no way you can leave unchanged yourself as we learn and grown as much from the boys, as they have learned and grew from working with us.

Hard to believe, but next Wednesday I am heading out with the team again for Retreat #2 at Blachford Lake Lodge, but this time with GIRLS and the FOXY team!  Wish us luck--apparently, it will be an entirely different experience.  :)

Jes