“Made on Haida Gwaii” Series, Part 5
May 17, 2012
By April Diamond Dutheil
The Made on Haida Gwaii series tells the stories of fifty talented young people who call Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada’s North.
July 27/2011, Mekelle, Northern Ethiopia - Alison Fraser with women from the Healing Hands of Joy Center. Photo credit: Lulseged Beyene.
“It just shapes who I am,” reveals Alison Fraser when discussing what it means to be from Haida Gwaii, “when you live there you see the world in a different way,” she says.
Fortunate to work with communities from around the world, including Kenya, Guatemala, Mexico, Ethiopia, and most recently inner city New York – Alison stays true to her roots, “everywhere I go I tell people about the magic of these small islands,” she says.
With a passion and talent for social development, Alison has made a difference early in her career. She has worked in international refugee camps, with youth from Vancouver’s downtown eastside and with women in trauma and conflict situations.
A first-hand witness to how aid is distributed in refugee communities, Alison is critical of how traditional aid relief often leaves the recipient with limited agency or voice, “How do you provide restoration? What is it like to empower someone?” she asks. Alison wants to see the narrative of dependency change in these communities, “I don’t have all of the answers, but I can contribute and learn,” she says.
One way Alison has been contributing is through her work with Healing Hands of Joy, an organization that supports Ethiopian women with childbirth injuries. Identifying a need for this work to continue she would eventually like to set up a similar program to support mothers from refugee camps throughout the globe.
For the past three years Alison has been working as a teacher through Teach for America in New York City. Named one of Fortune’s magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, Teach for America works with recent university graduates to provide high levels of education in under-resourced urban and rural public schools.
Alison is currently teaching math to third grade students at an Achievement First Charter School in East New York, Brooklyn. “I never though I’d be teaching math,” she jokes. Discovering a talent for transforming math education, Alison is helping to support math classes from across the Achievement First network by writing and giving feedback on math plans and lessons.. “The kids are my cause,” she says, noting her classes’ latest exam averages ranged from 93-95%.
Declining her acceptance into law school for the fall, “I decided to continue teaching,” she says. Passionate and invested in her work, “I’ve grown so much,” says Alison, “but it has been hard work- I get up at 5am every morning!”
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Honors International Studies from Trinity Western University in Langley, BC and a Master’s Degree in Education from Hunter College in New York City, Alison will spend her summer studying forced migration at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre. “It might seem like I’m doing a lot of random things,” she says, but at the root of her work is a deep commitment to social development.
When asked if she would return to Haida Gwaii Alison says, “Absolutely, I would definitely go back to live there and raise kids- there’s no place in the world like it.” Growing up on Haida Gwaii was an adventure -“these experiences don’t exist in the suburbs,” she says.
Current location: Manhattan, New York
Philosophy: Be respectful of individuals and their experiences.