After a member of the Nisga’a First Nation in northern B.C., completed a UBC Continuing Studies peer counselling program in 2013, she found it so valuable that she asked the university to tailor-make a version for her community.
“My experience of the program changed the way I communicate with others, so I wanted everyone in the village to have the same experience,” said Phyllis Clark, who serves as the educational coordinator for the Laxgalts’ap village, home to about 500 residents.
The custom program, which included courses in group dynamics, family systems, conflict management, emotional intelligence, and assertiveness, was a resounding success. Thirty students—all members of the village government team–completed the first module, with 10 going on to complete the full program and graduating in a special village dinner June 18.
Clark explained that the Nisga’a have worked hard to empower all community members. This was especially important after the Nisga’a Treaty was signed in 2000. New skills were needed to foster self-governance and support for each other. To do so, Laxgalts’ap village government workers have been learning new skills to develop self-confidence and good communication with their clients, who are also their friends, family or neighbours.
“I think most of us would say that we do communicate better with each other. For example, we have a better understanding of people and why there may be a reaction to something that was said. We would hope that each client can come away feeling like they have been heard,” said Clark.
UBC instructors Terri Rypkema and Sally Halliday delivered the custom modules onsite in the community, which fostered face-to-face learning for the students.
“Having the peer counselling program come to the village enabled us to develop trust and safety within the class,” said Halliday. “We gained a better understanding of the unique challenges and environment within the First Nations community, and adapted the teaching as we went along.”
She added: “Learners were also able to practice skills ‘in the moment’, in the class, every hour—and that gives people more confidence to take the skills out into their jobs and their lives.”
To find out more about the Certificate in Peer Counselling offered by UBC Continuing Studies, visit https://cstudies.ubc.ca/programs/peer-counselling-certificate.