Healthy Communities Welcoming Syrian Refugees YMCA Youth Programs

Warm welcome: How newcomer youth create inclusive spaces for each other

On a cool and cloudy day during March Break in Schomberg, Ontario, an eclectic group of youth gathered to play games, listen to music, take a bunch of selfies, and enjoy the great outdoors at the YMCA Cedar Glen Outdoor Education Centre.

Listen closely and you’ll realize while they are average teenagers, snippets in Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Farsi, Ukrainian and Arabic are woven between sentences in English. Perhaps, they are not so average—the more than 100 youth gathered at Cedar Glen have one thing in common: they are all immigrants to Canada, and are helping each other in their journeys to become Canadians.

_JMS1946Every year, youth in the Newcomer Youth Leadership Development  Program (NYLD) plan and conduct an Integration Conference, a two-day for-youth-by youth effort connecting newcomer youth from across the Greater Toronto Area that focuses on a theme the youth feel is relevant to their new lives in Canada.  This year, with Canada welcoming so many Syrian refugees, the theme was “Welcome”.  As this concept is expressed differently around the world, the youth explored the many aspects of “welcome” from beyond simply saying “come in” to the behaviours that make someone feel welcomed in their new environment.  Welcoming Syrian refugees goes beyond allowing them across our borders; it also means including them in our communities and our circles of friends.

Among those participating in outdoor activities such as high ropes, workshops led by Branchout Theatre, and a giant maze were a few Syrian youth and their families, still getting used to their new surroundings. Milad and Tony, NYLD participants, were tasked with making sure the Syrian families had what they needed.

_JMS1920“This is a fun experience and I’ve made a few new friends, but it’s also important for me to be able to welcome someone new to our group”, says Tony, also from Syria.

More than enjoying the outdoors, playing games and creating the perfect snap, it seems the best part about the day’s events was being able to have a space created just for them; somewhere they finally belonged after being told, time and again, they didn’t–just ask Santa, an NYLD participant.

“Being welcomed is an important feeling. I felt homesick and didn’t belong when I came to a new place… being welcomed by someone friendly is a warm feeling; I know that I’m not alone.”

To learn more about NYLD, click here; to learn about Newcomer Services, click here. Read more stories on how the YMCA is helping Syrian refugees make Canada home here.