Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill both grew up in the Northwest Territories. For Candice, sexual health education in school consisted of a junior high school teacher silently labelling images of male and female genitalia, while Nancy got some factual, science-based information from a school nurse.
Ten years later, when Candice was doing research for her Master’s degree in health promotion, she spoke to young women all across the North and found out that sex-ed was still being taught in dry, scientific ways – if it was being taught at all.
And even when sexual health education went well, it was often taught by teachers or nurses from the South who would leave after a year or two.
Teenage girls across the North wanted realistic information that they could use in their day-to-day lives, and they wanted to receive it from Northerners who would still be there when they had more questions.
Candice and Nancy decided to write a workshop to fill the gap that they saw in sexual health education in the North. They created a sexual wellness education workshop that was also a leadership program. They called it FOXY - Fostering Open eXpression among Youth. Later, they launched a parallel program for young Northern men called SMASH - Strength, Masculinities, and Sexual Health.
FOXY and SMASH use the visual and performing arts to talk about sexual health, healthy relationships, and positive life choices. Participants act out different scenarios and discuss the benefits of different reactions to social situations. The goal of the workshops is for youth to learn about themselves and their own well-being, and to gain confidence in the decisions that they make in their lives.
At FOXY and SMASH Peer Leader Retreats, youth train to become Peer Leaders, so that they can help out with FOXY and SMASH workshops throughout the school year and be leaders in their communities by completing community projects.
“Don’t underestimate yourself, or undervalue your needs because of your age. Adults sometimes disregard youth, and you need to remind yourself that your needs, opinions, and values are just as important as anybody else’s. It might take a while to make people listen to you, but it’ll be worth it to keep speaking up.”