By Sangeetha Ram and Rheign Morales
In October 2016, the YMCA of Greater Toronto launched a new branch of its Newcomer Youth Leadership Development (NYLD) program. The Arabic NYLD program, which is based at the Scarborough Milner Business Court YMCA Centre, is geared toward Arabic-speaking newcomer youth who have been victims of undesirable situations back in their home countries, including and especially Syria.
Canada has recently welcomed a large number of Syrian refugees, including many youth and families. Unfortunately, acclimating to new surroundings can be a tough experience, and some Syrian youth are having trouble feeling completely at home. That’s why Andrew Kowalchuk, a dedicated NYLD specialist at the Y, established this new program. Andrew’s vision was to create a program where Syrian youth could learn and work together to build self-confidence and develop their skills, talents, and passions to help them transition smoothly in their new communities.
“There are a lot of programs focused on teaching Syrians English, on teaching them about Canadian culture and customs, on teaching them about what they need to know,” says Andrew. “These are all important elements of settling into Canada, but they all focus on what people are lacking. One of the best parts about the way the YMCA engages youth is that we focus on what they already do well.”
The new Arabic NYLD program fosters potential and helps Syrian youth build strong bonds and connections, both within their new communities and with each other. The group meets once a week to discuss important issues and plan projects, visits the Scarborough Town Centre Ct. YMCA Centre to use the health and fitness facilities, and volunteers its time at different local organizations like food banks and clothing shelters.
At each gathering, the program’s participants develop leadership and communication skills in a comfortable setting — something which helps them integrate more quickly into their new schools, and bridge language and social gaps. This, Andrew says, goes a long way toward helping youth manage the stress and uncertainty of escaping war and moving to a new country. “I wanted to provide a program that gives Syrian youth an opportunity to become Canadian with confidence and pride in who they are.”
To get involved in the Arabic NYLD program, call 416-609-0218 ext. 30019. To learn more, visit the NYLD page on our website and click “How can I join?”
Sangeetha and Rheign are high school students, Y volunteers and staff members, and mentors to newcomer youth.