Walking for suicide prevention: An interview with Alissa Matoo

Alissa Matoo spoke with NPA’s Aviaq Johnston last summer about the suicide prevention walk she started in Arviat.

I met Alissa Matoo on the Students on Ice Arctic Expedition in the summer of 2016. She is an incredibly bright 17-year- old Inuk from Arviat, Nunavut. Now, more than a year later, she has graduated from John Arnalukjuak High School and has begun her first year at St. Francis Xavier University to study English.

Last year, Alissa developed a suicide prevention walk in her community to raise awareness on this tragic issue. The walk was incredibly successful, and she reflects that she had a lot of help to make it possible. I talked to her about it while she was helping to decorate her school for the coming graduation ceremony.

AJ: When did you create your suicide prevention walk?
AM: It all started with my Social Studies project about suicide prevention in Nunavut. Nunavut has the highest suicide rates. I was trying to figure out more ways to help prevent it and for my project I needed to create a product. My product was the suicide prevention walk. After I finished presenting my project, I knew that I had to do this walk. I told the people I was presenting to that I was going to do this because it’s my product, so I ended up doing it.

AJ: What did you do on this walk?
AM: We started at the baseball diamond and we made a circle. There were people talking about their immediate family members who’ve died by suicide and giving each other a chance to let things out. After that, we started walking. We walked along the outer parts of town, then on the main road of Arviat. Then we went to the community hall to finish off with a talent show.

AJ: So, you started this off as a school project, but were there any other reasons that made you want to do put this project into action?
AM: Yeah, a lot of my close friends and family have committed suicide. I felt like this project was very close to me and I wanted to get this out. I wanted people to know that there are ways to get the help that is needed and that you’re not alone.

AJ: What are some of the things you had to do to organize this walk?
AM: I had a lot of help from TakingItGlobal (a charitable non-governmental organization focusing on global issues by promoting awareness and engagement among global youth). They were here for a Youth Leadership camp. They helped a lot with making banners and making cards with phone numbers on them so that if you were feeling down you call them. I didn’t do it alone, I didn’t pull this all off alone. I had some help. We started planning and our plan was just to go walking together and then we came up with the idea of having a talent show. The police were trailing behind all the walkers and our mayor Bob Leonard was there for the entire walk.

AJ: What were some of the challenges for planning this?
AM: We had to try and get the word out in such a short time, that was challenging, but when we started the walk, all the people… it was unbelievable.

AJ: I feel like a lot of people would support this and sounds like it was very much supported.
AM: It was. It really was.

AJ: Were there any surprises after organizing your first walk?
AM: Yeah. What was surprising was that when I suggested it, saying “my product is a walk” everyone on the spot was like, “Yes, we should do that. It’s for a good cause, and it’s a good idea.” That was nice. Everyone was getting really involved in trying to help. Also, all the people that came out and the people that talked. It’s not easy to go in front of people to talk and some people just volunteered to tell a personal story or just a little message of hope and I really liked that.

AJ: That is so nice to hear. What do you think made your walk successful?
AM: Like I said, I couldn’t have done it alone. I got huge amounts of help from the youth in Arviat. I didn’t care if only 20 people showed up, at least there’d be that amount of people who cared, but instead there were so many people and I just felt really good about it because it was talked about openly and I think that made it a big success.

AJ: Do you have any advice for young people if they want to take initiatives like you have?
AM: Ask for help. Speak up about it, don’t keep it inside. Just speak up about it if you want to do something that is possibly going to change the community. We can help, we can come together and do it.

AJ: Are you planning another walk?
AM: I was seriously thinking of doing another walk, but because I am leaving for school, I have a lot of things to do. I have to pack and get ready and everything. I’m still thinking about it though, because last year was really good and this year more people are going to know about it, so that’s a bonus.

AJ: From the sounds of it, you’re going to do lots of awesome stuff and I’m really excited for you.
AM: Thank you! ◉

Aviaq Johnston is a member of NPA’s editorial board.

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