In 2009, Ayla Sanders graduated from Vanier Catholic Secondary School and got a summer
job in Paradise Alley on Main Street in Whitehorse. She did not have plans to pursue a post-secondary education, so she wrote an essay to apply for the Rosemary Burns Grant. This was the first year of the award. Since then it’s been presented annually to a graduate from Vanier. Elah says the award acknowledges a student who promotes equality and democracy and believes in a just and compassionate society. And, as she says, the grant is especially for those people who have a vision, but do not want to go to pursue a college or university degree. Her essay made the right impression and she was the first person to receive this $500 grant.
She used the money to buy a ticket to Nova Scotia and enrolled in a five-week-long French immersion program with her best friend, Sarah.
Elah was speaking French after the immersion program. She then applied for the year-long Katimavik program. Katimavik was a federal, nation-wide, work placement exchange program for youth. Being a Yukoner was a plus, as the program strived to include participants from every province and territory in Canada.
‘Katimavik’ means meeting place in Inuktitut. Its mission was to prepare youth to become responsible citizens who can make positive changes in their lives and communities.
“It is all about community living,” Elah says.
Katimavik ran successfully from 1977 until 1986 and from 1994 until 2012, when it was axed by the government of the time. Elah hopes that with Justin Trudeau in office, the program will be re-installed, since it was originally started under Pierre Trudeau.
It was a wonderful year.
She told me that there were 11 people in her group. The strength of this particular group was also confirmed by the fact that all eleven finished the program according to requirements.
The organization even had to come up with extra money as the budget was written with the expectation that there would be drop-outs.
It was a perfect year as a stepping-stone to learn to live on your own. Dinners were theme-based, like pirate grog ‘n’ grub.
“I looked forward to dinner everyday,” Elah says.
All 11 participants earned a certificate and $1,000 to help them on their next step in life. Elah bought a camera and moved to Lethbridge with one of the participants. After two months, she came back to Whitehorse where she was offered a job as a respite worker and she is proud to say that she looked after a six-year-old girl. The girl was born prematurely. When she was born, she was the smallest premature baby to ever survive at the BC Children’s Hospital. She was so small that she fit into the palm of a hand.
Although Elah loved her job, she was not happy to be back in Whitehorse. In January 2011, she moved to Ottawa and stayed there for 18 months. Living in Ottawa was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her.
As exciting as it was, though, she has vowed never again. She had some bad experiences there; she says she was living on the edge most of the time. And when she lost her job, she felt she did fall off the edge.
A friend from Whitehorse, Tracy Anderson, recognized Elah’s predicament and made a lifesaving gesture by buying her a ticket home.
“I needed a year to hibernate and to heal from Ottawa," Elah says. "In 2013, I felt I had done that and came out of my shell and suddenly started meeting amazing people, discovering amazing places, and realizing that Whitehorse was abundant with amazing activities.”
Who would have known she came to love her own Yukon? She changed her first name from Ayla to Elah. In those days of positive transformation, she worked and lived at the Robert Service Campground and heard stories from people from around the world at the little ice cream store and café called the Hippy Yuppy Coffee Stop, the world’s meeting place. She heard stories from people who were elated to be in the Yukon; for many of them being here was a dream coming true.
It was Elah’s plan to go WWOOFing this summer. ‘WWOOFing’ stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It’s an international network that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms. Elah hoped to go to the Elemental organic farm along the Takhini River. She wants to focus on eating local food and community living.
The Yukon is truly her home now, but since her days of living in Nova Scotia she now misses the ocean. She calls herself a being of the ocean and the moon. It’s her dream to live simply in Hawaii.