Director David Falconer hopes it will provide an escape for children in a country devastated by the Russian attack
In the midst of bombardments and violence in Ukraine, some children manage to escape by discovering the Arctic.
“I really felt that this could be a way to support these [Ukrainian children]said David Falconer, principal of the Inuksuit school in Qikiqtarjuaq.
He signed up for a program that gives Ukrainian children one-hour virtual lessons where they get to know another place in the world.
With Falconer, that place is Nunavut.
Ukrainian children tune into Zoom sessions wherever they are, and then Falconer and other teachers at the Inuksuit school tell them about life in the Canadian North.
He said the classes, attended by up to 250 people, provide Ukrainian children “an hour where they can dream and be totally separate from their current reality”.
During this hour, Ukrainian children learned about the history of the Inuit and the wildlife of the Arctic.
“Our hope is that when [the Ukrainian children] go to bed at night, they think of polar bears, seals and the Arctic,” Falconer said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and continues its assault. The United Nations estimates that more than four million Ukrainians have fled the country since the start of the war and several thousand have been killed.
Falconer said he joined the initiative to teach displaced children because he himself was displaced as a child when his family fled the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
Falconer was born in Chile, and in 1973, when he was 11, a violent coup led by Chilean general and future dictator Augusto Pinochet swept through the country.
He said he remembered the sights, sounds and smells of the coup, whether it was seeing jet planes bombing the presidential palace, hearing machine gun fire in front of his house and the smell of burning debris.
“These are things you never forget,” Falconer said.
With technology now able to connect people virtually even in times of war, Falconer said he was looking for an opportunity to help children through a similar situation he once faced.
He found out about it through this program – which still has no name – run by Daryna Sizhuk, a Ukrainian sales manager at Cambridge Assessment English, an organization that teaches English internationally.
She has teamed up with members of the Ukrainian education organization Smart Osvita to coordinate sessions between teachers and children. Sizhuk then posts the sessions on Facebook for people to join.
Through virtual education, children can still log in from bomb shelters and basements to escape their harsh reality for an hour, Sizhuk said.
She said she was happy to have teachers from all over the world join the program, including Falconer in the Arctic.
Ensuring that Ukrainian children can still receive an education is his way of contributing, as well as that of his colleagues.
“We do what we can,” she said in an interview via Zoom.
It’s not just Falconer who’s bonded with Ukrainian children: At the Inuksuit school, which spans K-12, teachers like Nicole Journal and Charlotte Miller have also joined in. .
Journal said she hosted a session where she taught Ukrainian children about life in the Arctic, explaining what dogteams are, how people hunt and what activities are done on land.
Getting children to escape war by immersing themselves in the Arctic was “really, really powerful,” she said.
Miller, who teaches 5th and 6th grades, said her class at the Inuksuit school was able to connect with the Ukrainian children and they did dances and exercises together.
“The [Inuksuit students] I love the idea that they were dancing and there were people dancing in another part of the world at the same time,” Miller said.
Falconer said the classes held are meant to be educational, but “at the end of the day our goal is to let these kids know that people care about us and if there’s anything we can do, we’re the”.