'Nunavut desperately needs to cope with women's issues'

Igloolik teacher walks to Hall Beach for women

By SONIA GUNDERSON, Special to Nunatsiaq News

While many Canadians enjoyed a leisurely Victoria Day weekend, Igloolik's Meeka Nangmalik walked 150 km to neighbouring Hall Beach and back to fulfill a personal dream.

"I've always wanted to do a long walk," the high school teacher said before her departure. "I want to do this so women can see they can achieve what they want in life. At the same time, I'm healing myself, too."

In mid-May, Nangmalik approached board members of Igloolik's newly-formed Ajagutaq Daycare Centre Society with her fund-raising idea. She knew the group had been seeking funds to renovate a local building for use as a daycare centre, and she wanted to contribute in her own way.

"I want to support a daycare centre for Igloolik because a lot of women give up on their dreams. They drop out of high school or can't work because they don't have a babysitter."

According to the 2006 census, Igloolik has 240 children under the age of five. Yet the community is one of the few in Nunavut that lacks daycare facilities.

"Not having daycare is holding Igloolik back economically and educationally," says Julie Ross, one of the society's board members. "Even for those with jobs, having reliable daycare will relieve their stress and reduce absenteeism."

The society estimates it will cost $400,000 to renovate a facility to house the daycare. To date, the group has held table sales and plans to raffle off two Canadian North return tickets from Igloolik to Ottawa. It is also seeking individual and government support.

"If we raise enough funds, we can start renovations in January 2009 and open the following September," Ross says.

Nangmalik's walk has already generated awareness and provided a boost to the daycare project, according to Ross.

Artcirq, Igloolik's circus troupe, gave a benefit performance prior to her departure, and community members in Hall Beach also donated money toward the project upon her arrival.

"For the short notice, we've had a lot of enthusiastic support in our communities and even from groups in Ottawa," says Ross. "It's going to take all of us coming together to make this happen."

Speaking by phone after her arrival in Hall Beach, Nangmalik said the first segment of her trek had been both enjoyable and arduous. She departed from Igloolik at 11 p.m. May 15 blanketed in thick ice fog.

By midnight, skies cleared and she strolled beneath the radiant spring sun. Hours later, a blizzard forced her to seek shelter for more than an hour in a hunting cabin.

Finally, heavy winds buffeted her during the final phase of her route. Despite the weather, Nangmalik reached Hall Beach in 19 hours.

"The hardest thing was fatigue," she said. "I had blisters on my right foot and just ran out of energy. I wanted to give up."

At that point, Mario Filip, a friend who had walked with her for support and protection, scouted out the route and spotted Hall Beach's radar towers in the distance. Realizing she was hours from the community, Nangmalik rallied and pushed herself to finish the trip.

As she neared Hall Beach Friday evening, members of the community came out to greet her. "Being around people, I got my energy back," Nangmalik said. After two days of rest, she began the return trek to Igloolik. "I want to finish what I started," she said.

While Nangmalik undertook the walk to empower herself and to help establish daycare in Igloolik, her larger goal is to inspire other women in Nunavut to live their dreams and contribute to their own communities. "In the future, I can see this becoming a yearly event, with many participants," she says.

"Nunavut desperately needs to cope with women's issues, and I hope that this can be a small but important way of creating change at the community level."

For more details about Nangmalik's walk and Ajagutaq Daycare Centre Society, see http://meekaswalk.blogspot.com/.

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