Since Andre Ouellet was a little kid, he couldn’t watch someone struggle and not do anything to help.
His passion for making people's lives better has brought him to Kirkland Lake where he’s taking a part in Northern Policy Institute's (NPI) Experience North fall placement program.
Since 2014, the program has been providing hands-on experience to young professionals. To date, there have been 62 Experience North placements.
Currently, the fall placements are also taking place in Thunder Bay, Haileybury and Sturgeon Falls.
Ouellet, 28, was born on Cape Breton Island and grew up in Tilbury, Ont.
Moving to Kirkland Lake for the placement was new to him but Ouellet finds getting out of his comfort zone helpful.
He’s never been to the north before.
“You have a perception of it living outside, living in southern Ontario. Some things are true, some things aren’t,” he said.
Ouellet’s work during his placement is related to issues faced by seniors in the North including Indigenous and francophone seniors.
Some of the challenges francophone and Indigenous seniors face include limited resources geared toward them because the resources are more designed for English-speaking people, Ouellet said.
“What we’re doing here is making suggestions for how to make things a bit easier for those folks,” he said.
His work also centres on issues faced by formal and informal caregivers. It’s one of the issues close to Ouellet’s heart.
When Ouellet was 19, he was a caregiver for his grandfather for about three months. His grandfather was francophone and had different medical issues. Ouellet’s grandmother was taking care of him for a long time and after she died, the responsibilities fell on Ouellet and his uncle.
“My grandmother was so good at it, she made it look so easy, and it’s really not,” Ouellet said. “It feels so much when you try to live your life but also take care of someone as well. It’s a lot.”
Ouellet’s experience providing care for his grandfather spanned several weeks but it took a toll on him. He said he has a lot of admiration for people who’ve been doing it for years. One of his desires is to see more mental health support for caregivers.
“It was part of the motivation in making sure the caregivers, especially in the north where resources are a little bit diminished, have access to every resource they can,” he said. “To make sure their lives are as good as they can be.”
Ouellet is also currently working on a survey on youth out-migration from the northern communities.
"What we do is publish papers that suggest policy changes that can be made," he said. "We're working on getting policy out, make sure northern communities are more sustainable and we can keep the north strong and prosperous."
He’s enjoying the placement and loves the people he works with.
“I’ve made best friends here in Kirkland Lake and the people I work with across the north, they’ve been the greatest people in the world. Very qualified, very intelligent, they know so much,” he said.
With his master’s degree in political science, Ouellet wanted to broaden his perspective, while NPI was looking for someone with his experience, he said. That’s how he ended up doing a placement in Kirkland Lake.
By the end of his 14-week placement, Ouellet’s goal is to show his worth, find solutions and policy changes that can help people.
“I would love to have a voice in policy anywhere. I’d like to continue using my voice, my skillset to help marginalized people out and make Canada, Northern Ontario, wherever I’m working at that time a great place to be,” he said.
Growing up with Catholic grandparents, Ouellet learned it was important to be kind to people and treat them the way you want to be treated.
“And not only that, but the duty you have to your community,” he said.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com