Sherivan Ali, 18, has lived in Canada for over a year. She was 11 when the Syrian war started, and Ali and her family fled to Turkey.
“We were safe in Turkey, so I was grateful, but I wasn’t able to go to school (due to money), and missed my friends and family. I wanted to learn more and feel happy for my future,” she said.
For three and a half years, Ali and her siblings worked in a clothing factory for 12 hours a day, six days a week. By the time she arrived in Canada, she had missed four years of school.
“I can complete my Grade 12 and graduate from high school. It was just a dream in the past, but now I’m making my dream come true,” she said.
Ali attends Global Girls, a pilot program helping newcomer young women between the ages of 16 and 22 become empowered and overcome obstacles. Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) started the program in March.
Mischa Taylor, co-facilitator of Global Girls, said, “That transition time from high school to post-secondary is very important for anyone.” She said participants “have a foot in two different cultures, which can create different expectations.”
Global Girls helps participants develop relationships, self-confidence, resilience, and goals. Activities include discussion groups, team building, problem solving, or listening to guest speakers.
The program is for young women “[because] girls face some different expectations and challenges generally, regardless of cultural backgrounds. We believe girls need a safe space with their own gender because they’re more likely to share.”
Taylor explained the program is participant-driven and organizers don’t impart values, morals, or opinions, but provide a safe space to share honestly.
On June 29, Global Girls held a Women in Leadership Symposium at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts. Some participants shared their experiences and successful women who were once newcomers discussed how they overcame challenges.
Deborah Adesegun, a University of Alberta Pandas rugby player, moved from Nigeria to the United States when she was eight years old. When Adesegun was in university, she wanted to play rugby.
“The nos were finances. Rugby is a very pay-to-play kind of sport. Finances were hard. I had to fundraise and ask for help to get sponsorship,” she said. “The first year I didn’t even try out, I was so scared.”
She drew inspiration from her mother.
“I remembered those lessons that my mom taught me, where she refused to take no for an answer. And she looked at those obstacles, acknowledged them, but then fought through them.”
By her third year on the team, Adesegun was a sophomore flanker, helping her team win many games. She also won the Canada West Rugby Student-Athlete Community Service Award.
Lena Awwad, a Harvard University graduate and a refugee support manager at Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), was born and raised in Palestine. The Palestinian uprising started when she was in Grade 3, and it sometimes took her two to three hours to get to school. This determination has been a constant in her life.
When Awwad went to Harvard, “I wasn’t accepted for who I was. I was very different from everyone around me. I was Muslim, I was Palestinian, I was Canadian, I was everything everyone else wasn’t. But throughout that journey, I stood up for my values, I stood up for what I believed in, and everyone on campus knew that’s who I was. By the time I graduated, that was celebrated more than rejected.”
Medgine Mathurin, public health advocate and spoken word artist, comes from Haiti.
“I remember going to school in an all-girls school, uniforms of course, and having to dodge a lot of riots,” said Mathurin.
When her family moved to Canada, she spoke very little English. Mathurin and her twin sister forced themselves to think in English, which helped. She started writing in high school to express herself and now performs locally and nationally.
“Believe in your own worth and don’t compare yourself or your journey to anybody else’s. Because yours is yours alone and not only that, but it carries a unique power that no one else has,” said Mathurin.
Global Girls resumes in September.
Free, drop-in program for newcomer young women.
Every two weeks from Sept to June, 3:15-5:30 pm
EMCN main office (11713 82 St)
Featured Image: Sherivan Ali (left) and Mariam Taqtaq (right) attend the Women in Leadership Symposium at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts on June 29. | Talea Medynski