YMAP was asked to find youth from our programs to speak in front of a junior high class learning about immigration last month. I ended up asking two of my leaders, Arwa and Maryam, who are not only keen participants, but also have extremely interesting stories to share.
When I initially approached these two young ladies about the speaking opportunity, I expected them to be somewhat shy about the idea of speaking in front of a crowd – who wouldn’t be? I could not have been more wrong. Both of them agreed immediately, realizing that not only was this a great opportunity for their resume, but a unique chance to share their experiences as newcomers with Canadian students.
The following week, after braving some cold weather and seriously confusing transit routes, Arwa, Maryam and myself arrived at Rundle College Academy. The girls presented in front of a group of around 20 students and 5 staff, and did an amazing job of representing YMAP, along with sharing their own personal cultures and stories. Although I have known these girls for several months, I was unaware of many things that they went through with their families when moving to Canada.
Arwa, an immigrant from Libya, moved here with her family knowing very little about Canada. Her father had visited several times and said that it was a nice, safe country, where they would have better opportunities than back home. She had an aunt in Calgary, which is why her family decided to settle here. She still remembers the first day that she woke up in Canada as being one of the strangest feelings ever – she thought she was dreaming because she had never seen so many open spaces and green fields! It took some getting used to, and she still misses Libya from time to time, but she has adjusted well to life in Canada. She plans to study computer science, and I have no doubt that with her work ethic and motivation, she will succeed!
Maryam, a refugee from Iraq, moved here just under a year ago knowing very little English (I would now consider her fluent). While living temporarily in Syria with her family, who obtained refugee status by the United Nations, she did not know whether she would be moving in days, weeks, or months to Europe, Canada, or the United States. For safety purposes, she was not allowed to tell friends or family and information, as many people were seeking refugee status and the opportunity to move from Iraq and Syria. Most high school students find it challenging to even change schools, let alone continents, knowing nothing about the new continent will be moving to. Maryam considers her family and herself lucky to have been placed in Canada, despite all of the uncertainty that she had to go through at the time. Starting in September, Maryam will be studying Sciences at Mount Royal College. She plans to continue on to study medicine and one day become a doctor. I truly believe she has the knowledge and motivation to make this happen.
After the girls finished speaking, the never-ending questions asked by students and loud round of applause made it clear that Rundle College had learned a lot from the presentation. I was so excited to see the confidence that this experience gave Arwa and Maryam, and the awareness that was built about immigration issues amongst those junior high students. I hope that our youth get many more opportunities to speak in the community in the future!
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