Last year, Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Clubs’ youth council, known as the Youth Advisory Squad (YAS), met to discuss ways to further engage and learn from their community in Toronto, Ontario.
Their aim was to educate themselves on their community’s needs, find ways to engage with them, and support them through volunteering and fundraising.
It all began with a conversation in their 4th floor youth lounge. The members—Houzayfa, Rhashari, Wei, Jaiden, Aaliya, Janeel, Christian, and Yazzy—were brainstorming ideas on how to give back to their community. Someone mentioned a food drive, another mentioned a clothing drive, and yet another mentioned handing out food to the homeless.
The team leads asked the youth what they wanted to learn more about and the topic of refugees was brought up. The youth began to discuss what they knew about refugees in Canada, and specifically in Toronto. By the end of the discussion it was clear that some of them knew more than others, but all of them still wanted to learn more.
Shortly after the meeting, the group got in touch with a former staff member of Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Clubs who was now working with an organization helping refugees. As it happened, they had recently opened a home for refugee asylum seekers called Silas Hill Home for Refugees.
On a bright spring morning in April, the 8 youth council members boarded a bus with trays of chicken, rice, potatoes, and salads. They arrived at the house and met the staff. Following a brief tour, the youth gathered in the basement to learn more about refugees, specifically asylum seekers, in Toronto.
They learned that a “refugee” is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, while an “asylum seeker” is a refugee that is seeking asylum, or refuge in a country, but does not have legal documentation yet.
Much to their surprise, the asylum seekers at Silas Hill Home—and many refugees in Toronto—were not from Syria. The families were from all over the world, including Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Eritrea.
They learned that people come with babies as young as two years old in order to escape the violence in their countries. They also learned about the importance of a place like Silas Hill Home, and how it provides food, shelter, and clothing, while helping the residents finish their paperwork, find a job, obtain a drivers licence, and more.
Following this session the youth went back upstairs to have dinner and get to know the families. 22 people gathered around the dining room table to share the meal that YAS had brought over.
Shortly after the food was served, each person introduced themselves with their name, background, length of stay in Canada, and favorite colour. With the ice quickly broken, the family members at Silas Hill started asking the YAS youth questions about themselves and Canada.
One mother with young children asked them how their parents disciplined them, as she was aware that things are different in Canada—everyone burst out laughing!
The youth began to ask the residents different questions, learning more about why they left their home countries, what the hardest part of their journey was, and their favorite part about Canada so far.
The members of YAS were amazed by how much they learned, and how strong the residents were. They were inspired to do more, and have since held two fundraisers to support their new friends at the Silas Hill Home for Refugees!