Refugee children build family for themselves at summer camp

A summer camp for refugee children and youth is giving newcomers a place in the community.

'I'm their sister': Camper finds belonging as she integrates into Canadian life

Magi Hadad is both a camper and a volunteer with the Kurdish Initiative. She wants the campers she leads to not face the same challenges as when she first arrived in Canada. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

A summer camp for refugee children and youth is giving newcomers a place in the community.

The Kurdish Initiative for Refugees is wrapping up its third year running the day camp. It's grown considerably since it started.

In its first year, 35 children between the ages of five and 24 attended. Now the camp sees over 350 students come through its doors at three locations across the province.

The group celebrated the success of the camp Monday night with a feast and a gathering of campers, volunteers, parents and community members.

The celebration was held at Douglas Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. The Kurdish Initiative has been using the space since they started the camp.

The halls were filled with boisterous children, running to greet their friends and show off some of their crafts and art projects to parents and visitors.

The Kurdish Initiative for Refugees wraps up its third annual day camp with a feast and a gathering of campers, volunteers, parents and community members. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

"The aim of this program is to make interactions with the Canadian community," said Cilava Shekhmous, the camp's program co-ordinator.

Shekhmous is new to Canada herself. She came to Winnipeg only two months ago. She says the camp has helped her as much as it has helped the kids.

"The newcomers, as you know, when they come, they feel isolated," said Shekhmous. "But some of [the people] are Canadians and when they interact, they will be okay."

The camp integrates children into their community by teaching them about Canadian history and culture through art, dance and field trips.

Family ties

One of the youth campers, Magi Hadad, feels like she's found a new family through the program.

"They gave me a place to belong to when I came to Canada," said Hadad. "We have something in common, even though I have not known them for a long time. But I know how they feel and we face the same things."

As a youth in the program, Hadad volunteers and works with the younger children.

"I don't want them to face the same challenges that I did when I first came to Canada," she said. "I will try as much as I can to help them. We're trying to build a big family here, so I'm their sister, before I'm just a leader here."

That sentiment was echoed through the speeches and presentations by campers and volunteers. Everyone in attendance expressed a sense of belonging — one they didn't feel they would have when they came to Canada as refugees.

One of the night's presentations was a film made entirely by Canadian newcomers.

Amed Ali came to Winnipeg two months ago and has since been volunteering to teach the campers filmmaking and acting. He screened their film at the event. (Aviva Jacob/CBC)

Amed Ali, a filmmaker from Turkey, wrote and directed the short movie as a way to give thanks. He was sponsored by the Kurdish Initiative and came to Winnipeg in June.

The film featured about a dozen kids from the camp. Ali ran some acting workshops and helped them prepare for their roles in the movie.

He says he wanted the film to reflect the values and goals of the camp itself.

"Our message was that we have Muslim, Kurdish, Arabic, Christian, Indigenous students in the same class," said Ali. "We were focusing to tell them that multiculturalism is important. We have to accept each other. We have to respect each other."

Monday's celebrations kicked off the last week of the camp's summer season before the youth return to school.


Aviva Jacob holds a degree in journalism from the University of King's College. Avi, along with a small team, was the winner of the 2018 Emerge Media Award in audio storytelling. You can email Avi with story ideas at