Every frigid winter Monday for the past five years, a group of refugee children kids from around the world have been learning to lace up and hit the ice at Central Park in Winnipeg.
Eleven-year-old Hermon Dsouza moved to Canada in 2012. He remembers learning how to skate at the age of six-years-old in India, a place that doesn't see a lot of snow and ice.
"Back home, you just need to wear a shirt and pants; over here you need to wear a lot of clothes, like three shirts, two pants, two socks. Yeah, a lot of things," said Dsouza.
Dsouza said everybody he knows plays hockey and that it's an easy way to make new friends.
New Lease on Ice
The New Lease on Ice program is offered through the Immigrant Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM).
Jen Glenwright, a hockey program coordinator with the group, teaches newcomers aged six to 12 the hockey fundamentals. They believe this is an important sport to Canadians and is a fun way for kids new to Canada to feel involved and fit in.
"One of the first things that people learn when they come to Canada, especially Winnipeg, is that hockey is our sport, It's our nation's sport," said Glenwright. "In the winter the kids get really excited about hockey. They're just really excited to be part of something that's so Canadian."
The program has doubled in the past five years from just 15 kids to more than 30.
However, there's now a hitch in the program. It runs every Monday evening in the winter and finding an outdoor location is sometimes a challenge.
If the windchill is –25 C or colder, they have to cancel the night of hockey. Glenwright said the kids get really sad when that happens.
"Right now we are at Central Park, which is a frozen soccer field, which means there's no boards, huge cracks, often there is snow on the ice," Glenwright said.
"With our crazy winters, last year we had to cancel it several times ... it's pretty brutal out there, it's really wide open, so you get cold really quick and as soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops by 10 degrees and then it's not very pleasant."
Program needs help
Organizers are hoping to find a way to mitigate the elements and ensure those sad days become a thing of the past.
IRCOM has been selected as one of 10 finalists in the Good Life Win 4 Kids program. The team with the most votes from the public wins $25,000.
Glenwright said this money would go toward extending the program, renting indoor ice, transportation, and upgrading their equipment.
"That way they're not focusing on staying warm and the crazy winds, they're just focusing on the hockey skills," Glenwright said. "They get to put their equipment on in a warm area, [where] the quality of ice is much better."
"An indoor rink? That'd be much better," Dsouza said, adding "because an indoor rink, you don't have much problems, the kids don't get too cold, some of them they don't even wear socks, and they might be getting all the proper equipment, the neck guard, and everything."
IRCOM provides a variety of services and housing to new immigrants and their families. Some of the services they provide include: financial education, language classes and extensive after-school programs for children and youth. They also assist members with employment, education, and health resources.
IRCOM participants come from countries such as: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Phillippines, Somalia, and Sudan.