Volunteers Sep. 22, 2017

Building a home under the midnight sun: Habitat Iqaluit hosts Global Village volunteers

This article was originally published in the October/November issue of Uphere, Canadian North's inflight magazine.

Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, born and raised in Iqaluit, knows all about Nunavut’s housing crisis first-hand. She and her husband, who have three boys, sat patiently on the Iqaluit Housing Authority’s wait list for 13 years. And for over a year, Ipeelie-Qiatsuk and her three children lived in one bedroom of her mother’s house. But Ipeelie-Qiatsuk’s life is about to change drastically: if all goes as planned, she and her family will move into a brand new four-bedroom house in Apex by Christmas.

That’s thanks to Habitat for Humanity Iqaluit, with support from seven teams of volunteers that travelled north with Global Village to help build the home. Global Village is a Habitat for Humanity program that coordinates volunteer travel to Habitat building projects around the world, including northern Canada.

“If I get sick, I don’t have to worry about whether we’re going to have a home or not, about all that stress, which carries on to your children, you know? My children will be healthy, they’ll have their own home,” Ipeelie-Qiatsuk said.

Ipeelie-Qiatsuk and her family welcomed each of the building teams to Iqaluit this summer, helping to host an elder’s feast, traditional games and a qulliq-lighting for the visitors. “We learn a lot from them, and they learn from us. It’s a really great opportunity for everyone,” she said.

That sentiment is echoed by Sophia Chaudhery, who travelled to Iqaluit in July for her fifth build with Habitat for Humanity. Over incessant banging of hammers and droning of saws, Chaudhery explained she knew very little about Nunavut. But as a high school teacher from Toronto, she came to Iqaluit eager to learn. “One of my goals was to get resources to take back home to incorporate more non-European history into my curriculum,” she said.

Forging unique experiences is a desire that Chaudhery said links many of those who choose to spend their vacation time or retirement years travelling to a community to lend a hand. “Some people like the all-inclusive beach type holiday, but for myself, and I think a lot of my team, we want more than that – a way to give back and help.”

Michael Coleman, a first-time Global Village volunteer who works as a registered nurse in St. John’s, Newfoundland, said he came to Iqaluit because he was looking for a challenge. “I really dislike construction work, it’s not something I’m good at, so I thought, why not give it a try?” Coleman said on the last day of his one-week trip.

“My construction skills have definitely improved. I now consider myself somewhat of an expert in cutting up truss joints,” he laughed.

Coleman said a trip to Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, which was “absolutely stunning,” and taking part in Nunavut Day celebrations when he first arrived on July 9, were among his most memorable moments.

“I noticed on the first day, we’re all human beings, you know? We’re all connected: we enjoy doing the same things, having barbecues, spending time with families, playing with our children,” he said.

Melanie Abbott is the chair of the Global Village committee of Habitat Iqaluit. She said the 84 volunteers who travelled from all across Canada to Iqaluit this summer have been welcomed with open arms by community members. The build in Apex is part of a larger national building effort, under the Carter Work Project, that helped 150 families build or improve their homes in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

But there is still plenty of work to do before the family can move in, Abbott said. That’s why Habitat Iqaluit is hoping local volunteers will step forward. “We’re dependent on local volunteers to help us finish the home, so I encourage people to reach out to us to see how they can help,” Abbott said.

In the past, staff at some Iqaluit workplaces have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity as a team-building opportunity, she added.

“Local businesses have been incredibly supportive; we’ve been so lucky, but there’s always more room to help. There are opportunities to serve on the board or help on our committees, participate in fund raising events, or make a financial contribution to ensure we can continue to work with families to build homes.”

Meanwhile, Ipeelie-Qiatsuk already knows the first thing she’ll do when her family moves into their new home: “We’re going to have a big dinner, have all our friends and family over – whether we have furniture yet or not – so that we can make a good, lasting memory.”

To learn more about Habitat Iqaluit, visit habitatiqaluit.ca​ or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. (All photos courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Iqaluit.)