I first met Esther at her high school. My colleague, Matt and I were there to do some interviews with the youth who had filled out an application form to join YMAP. To be completely honest, I don’t remember my interview with Esther because I spoke to a lot of students that day. I do know that she must have stood out in some way because there were some youth at her school who are not currently in the program due to lack of space. I called her to let her know she was accepted back at the beginning of December and that’s where her journey begins…
Esther joined YMAP at a unique time. Because of the Christmas break, we run fewer sessions than usual in December and January is a month dedicated to optional volunteer opportunities as well as post-secondary tours while final exams are going on. Even though Esther was very new to the program, she managed to make her first session at the Calgary Dream Centre where she worked with others in her Explorers group to wrap presents for the residents’ upcoming Christmas celebration. She also came to YMAP’s Kick-Off event December 14th and after Christmas, got involved in the various school tours and volunteer opportunities available to her through the program. At first she was shy but she began to slowly open up over time.
It was during one of our volunteer excursions where I learned more about Esther. Her family is originally from China and she’s living here in Calgary with her mother, grandmother and older brother. She doesn’t know where her father is at this point in her life. Her mother doesn’t speak English which means that she’s not able to work at this time. She gets along with her family but still feels a lot of pressure that comes with moving to a foreign country. Esther is learning to adapt slowly but surely and I believe YMAP is really helping her to make Canada her new home.
As I said, her family is originally from China and in particular the south of China. Even though there are many Chinese youth involved in YMAP, she told me that she often feels slightly disconnected from them because her heart language is a different dialect. One of my favourite moments from this past month was when I witnessed Esther befriend a youth from the Central YMAP location. We were about to go on a tour of SAIT, but while waiting in the LRT station, Esther met Lea and they both found out they were from not only the same province but also the same city in China! Esther was so excited to meet someone who spoke her language and understood her culture. Helping our youth like, Esther, make connections with other youth in the city has been a huge joy!
Even though Esther was so grateful to find someone she could speak her dialect with, she still makes a huge effort to speak English at all times when she could resort to her second language of Mandarin. Because she’s gotten very involved in the program, especially during the month of January, I’ve been able to see her interact with other youth and see her begin to feel more at ease where as at the beginning she was understandably slightly shy. She even took the step of applying for the CIBC Youthvision Scholarship that is awarded to youth in grade 10 and involved in the YMCA. From the beginning, she was very unsure but when she came to my office to put some finishing touches on her application, she let me know how happy she was to be applying and I could see her confidence level soaring. She still doesn’t know if she’s been awarded the scholarship, but she was so proud of herself for trying! She told me how happy she was to have been accepted in YMAP and that she was very glad to know me as well. As she was expressing her gratitude, I couldn’t help but think that this is why YMAP exists…we want to help our youth gain confidence, try new things, make friends and practice English. Esther is well on her way in her new life here in Canada! I’m so thankful I get to be a small part of her journey.
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