On February 21st, more than 50 Wood Buffalo community members and Royal Roads University’s ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Research Innovation Lab members met to present and discuss findings from the “Youth Voices Rising” project on youth, recovery, and resilience in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The research study occurred in response to the 2016 Horse River wildfire disaster and was supported by the Canadian Red Cross.
The presentation and discussion covered the background of the two-year project, the youths’ ideas for a better community, a focus on how to strengthen youths’ sense of belonging and resilience, and ways to engage youth in the community as the community rebuilds after a wildfire disaster. The findings are showcased in the “Youth Vision and Voices in Wood Buffalo” report: https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb. View the event video at www.facebook.com/ResiliencebyDesignlab/videos/253510002242119 and www.facebook.com/ResiliencebyDesignlab/videos/1166184303576522
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott opened the presentation by sharing his role in the #YouthVoicesWB social media campaign that was part of the Creative Action Research study. He also shared his commitment to including youth voice in decisions that affect them. Youth community member Pamela (age 17) also shared her experience with the YVR project, highlighting how impactful it was to have hers and others concerns and ideas taken seriously by local community members as well as validated by other youth. As Pamela described, “Before I started working with youth voices, I never really knew the power or importance of my voice or the impact that I could have in my community.”
RbD Lab members Dr. Tamara Plush, Dr. Robin Cox, and Ashley Berard then presented on the #YouthVoicesWB campaign, which asked youth to answer the question: “What would you do to make your community better?” Youth answered this through original art pieces, poetry, photos, songs and more. The youth’s ideas focused on five priority areas, including transportation, health and wellbeing, volunteerism, participation and activities, and education. Tamara summarized the research through the lens of two key concepts: belonging and resilience. “Belonging connects to when youth feel valued for who they are or who they want to be. Belonging also includes the places that youth can go to feel safe, brave, supported and connected while navigating their unique roles and responsibilities in their communities,” she said.
The focus on resilience was highlighted by the photography show “We are Resilient: We See the Positive” from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation youth. This was showcased around the room for community members to view, and can be viewed here: (https://resiliencebydesign.com/indigenous-youth-visualize-community-resilience-post-disaster-through-photography/). To highlight the arts methods and creations that made the YVR project so unique and powerful, Willi Whiston and Genoveve Zepeda-Whiston performed their original YouthVoicesWB song, Change.
Following the presentation portion of the day, the community members attending participated in group discussion. They offered ways their organizations could address the youths’ ideas and concern, strengthen youth belonging and resilience in the community, and how youth could aid in leading in the way towards positive change. The inspiring conversation led into presentations from key community leaders, including an overview of regional community resilience planning by Jody Butz, RMWB Regional Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management; a presentation by Cecelia Mutch, Executive Director of United Way; and an update by Guy Choquet, Canadian Red Cross Director of Operations Alberta Fire Recovery on Disaster Risk Reduction efforts in Wood Buffalo.
The ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Lab at Royal Roads University launched the #YouthVoicesWB (https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb/) social media campaign Sept. 2017 in northern Alberta to champion youth ideas for a better community after the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire disaster. The campaign applied creative arts and action research as part of the “Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo” project, funded by the Canadian Red Cross. The research specifically explores how youth voice can be strengthened during and after disaster in recovery response and planning (https://crossroads.royalroads.ca/news/rbd-lab-partners-give-youth-ideas-flight)
The RbD Lab strategically used #YouthVoiceWB as a process to explore, amplify and promote youth voice in the community through creative arts. For instance, the campaign asked youth age 14-24: “What would you do to make your community better?” Nearly 400 youth responded to the question through song, surveys, sticky notes, photography, poetry, art and more. The RbD Lab team is now analyzing the findings and connecting youth and their ideas to local decision-makers. The researchers also hoped the campaign could ignite ways to sustain youth voice and support their recovery needs in Wood Buffalo beyond the project timeline, and explored possibilities.
“In the campaign, young people said they wanted own digital space to not only know what’s happening in the community for youth, but as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to find extra support for drug abuse and domestic violence or to respond to suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Tamara Plush, Lead YVR Researcher at the RbD Lab. “In support, we were fortunate to connect with Some Other Solutions in Fort McMurray to take over #YouthVoicesWB in February; and they are now developing their own strategy of how they will operate it as a Social Media Hub for youth.”
#YouthVoicesWB is currently active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Some Other Solutions (SOS) plans to tie #YouthVoicesWB into their youth programs and mentorships in schools, as well as connect to schools and other youth-serving social profits and organizations in the region. They also have plans to work with youth to build an app for youth events and access to crisis resources.
According to Tamara, the shift of #YouthVoicesWB as a research project to that of a community-based Social Media Hub is both exciting and essential. “We are thrilled the brand will continue with SOS because many youth talked about the need for adult mentorships, health and wellness support, and crisis intervention. These are core areas for SOS, so the transition feels like the natural progression of #YouthVoicesWB in the community.”
Jason King, SOS Executive Director, agrees and laid out the SOS vision for the Social Media Hub. “What I like about #YouthVoicesWB is that it gives opportunity for youth to be heard in our community. Not just in what they see but in what they do,” he said. “We see the vision of #YouthVoicesWB as showcasing the authentic and uncensored voice of youth. We want to capture what people are saying and what place they are speaking from. We want to show that they are leaders and holders of the community.”
To learn more about the role of Some Other Solutions in Wood Buffalo, visit their website at https://someothersolutions.ca; and follow #YouthVoicesWB across all social media platforms to watch how SOS continues to champion Wood Buffalo youth voice.