Refugee and Indigenous youth connect through Surrey immigration program
Teens met earlier this year and discussed experiences of displacement, trauma, and colonization.
Members of the Surrey Refugee Youth Team are helping new immigrants form cross-cultural connections by introducing them to B.C.'s Indigenous history.
Surrey, B.C., is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and immigration is a major driving force behind this surge.
It's got a larger portion of young people compared to the rest of Metro Vancouver, and one of the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership's goals is to make sure immigrant and refugee youth have opportunities to connect across cultures and build leadership skills.
Indigenous and refugee youth met for two dialogue circles and a traditional longhouse ceremony with Kwantlen First Nation this past spring to discuss common experiences of displacement, trauma, and colonization.
"The way I see it is pain is the same everywhere, loss is the same everywhere … Coming from places where blood has been shed, we can relate to what the Aboriginal people have felt and maybe are feeling right now," said Mumtaz Sultan, co-leader of Surrey Refugee Youth Team.
Sultan, 16, spent his first 10 years growing up in Syria. His family fled the war to Moldova in Eastern Europe where they lived for five years before relocating to Canada about a year ago.
"I think that together, because we share the same kind of loss — the loss of our homes, the loss of our people, the loss even of our cultures … if we strengthen that relationship and help each other we can take another step into a better future," he told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.
Growing the team
The team was created last summer to foster those uniquely similar connections and now they're looking for new members.
Dacious Richardson, another co-leader of the Surrey Refugee Youth Team, said he's made some close friends through the program and has learned new ways to care for his community through conversations with Indigenous youth.
"One of the things I learned from the Aboriginal community is they value the nature, the environment, and they care much about it … With the experience they have gone through, they still have love in their hearts toward everyone, so I tend to follow that path as well," he said.
Richardson came to Canada from Liberia in 2011 and although his English wasn't very strong, the students at Gifford Park Secondary School welcomed him with open arms.
"I love that school because I believe it's not just a school, it's family because they opened up to me and gave me love. That allowed me to settle there very freely and I get along with everyone."
Now Richardson is hoping to lend that same positive initial experience with other youth refugees and is encouraging others to volunteer with the Surrey Refugee Youth Team.
Sultan said his work with the team has helped both his sense of community and sense of self through the connections he has made during his first year in the country.
"If I had the opportunity I'd be doing this for the rest of my life."
Youth between the ages of 16 and 25 who arrived to Canada as a refugee or have refugee experience, are interested in community building and gaining leadership skills can apply to become a volunteer with the team.
The deadline for applications has been extended to Friday, Aug 17.
To hear the full interview listen to media below:
With files from The Early Edition