New Brunswick

Young immigrants inspired to become future leaders in the province

Imagine NB is a new program from the New Brunswick Multicultural Council that aims to retain youth immigrants and help them become leaders.

Imagine NB is a new program that will try to help young immigrants become leaders and stay in the province

Hannah Otilla is a 15-year-old girl who moved from the Philippines to Saint John last month and is hoping to make the Imagine NB team. (Roger Cosman)

Hannah Otilla was elected class president of Grade 8 back at her school in the Philippines. Making her classmates listen to her was the toughest thing she's done so far, but she said in the end, it was worth it.

Ever since, Otilla's wanted to continue in leadership roles.

That's why after moving to Saint John with her parents and her sister a month ago, Otilla, who's 15 years old and going into Grade 10, applied to a new program for immigrant youth called Imagine NB.

This New Brunswick Multicultural Council program is a two-year, bilingual leadership accelerator for immigrants 15 to 17 years old who are in high school.

"The program could help encourage more youth like me to embrace the differences we have," said Otilla.

"It will help youth improve skills like understanding and optimism."

Arianne Melara, the program manager of Imagine NB, said New Brunswick needs more role models for immigrant youth. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

Arianne Melara, the program manager of Imagine NB, said there is not enough visible minority representation in the New Brunswick government.

Only four per cent of the province's population are immigrants.

"That creates a lack of role models for immigrant youth who are in high school to be able to create their professional and personal career in the province," said Melara.

What the program is about

She said the program is all about retention.

"We need to retain our youth in New Brunswick and that includes immigrant youth. We need to invest in their future so they can grow, excel and prosper in the province," she said.

The council started taking applications from teenagers around the province in June and will continue to do so until the fall.

After going through applications and hosting a selection day in the fall, 20 teens will be chosen to become the Imagine NB team.

Those chosen will travel and connect with leaders across the province and see what career pathways are available in New Brunswick.

Two or three weekend retreats will bring the 20 students together to participate in workshops.

Imagine NB focuses on immigrants in this age group because it's when they're "creating a sense of belonging and planning for the future," said Melara.

Many struggle by themselves

Moncef Lakouas landed in Moncton on Jan. 10, 2004, with two suitcases and a Burger King sandwich.

He was 21 years old, by himself and did not understood English or French.

As most immigrants do, he struggled his first few months in Canada.

"I wasn't even able to know where I could do my groceries."

Moncef Lakouas, vice president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, said a program like Imagine NB would have helped him overcome struggles when he first came to Canada in 2004. (Submitted by Moncef Lakouas)

A few years later, Lakouas became the president of the student council at the University of Moncton and is now the vice-president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council.

This is why Imagine NB is important for the province.

"A program like Imagine NB would have allowed me to make connections," he said. "For three months I didn't have anybody to talk to. Just going to school and going to sleep."

Even though making the program might be harder than controlling a class of Grade 8 students, Otilla said she is optimistic about making the team.

"I think I can inspire others with what I have," she said.


Maria Jose Burgos is an award-wining journalist with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Tips?