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Kingston group shares best practices for youth refugees arriving alone

October 9, 2021

When Rohullah Fayizi arrived in Kingston, Ontario, from Afghanistan he was all alone. A 20-year-old refugee without a family.

“I’m a social person so not having friends to laugh with or a sense of community in my new home was terrifying,” said Fayizi, now 24. “Many newcomers come with their families, so at least they have that, but arriving alone and not speaking English is very isolating.”

Like many newcomers to Kingston, Fayizi found an community through the KEYS Job Centre, a Kingston organization mainly focused on employment programs and services.

“In addition to finding a job, we’ve learned that the young newcomers who arrive alone really need a social connection and friends,” said Mike Hipson, a program facilitator at KEYS. “It sounds simple, but just having another young person to talk to in their own language, who have gone through similar things, is so important. Loneliness can be so hard, so we try to do things they might otherwise do with their families like go for a walk, or go to a park.”

The KEYS staff dubbed these informal gatherings and weekly meetings the ‘New Horizons Newcomer Youth Peer Mentoring’ project. It’s been so successful that the RBC Foundation is donating close to $70,000 to help KEYS bring the model to other organizations in similar sized cities across Canada.

The funds are part of the RBC Future Launch Community Challenge, which challenged youth, aged 15 – 29, in more than 150 small and mid-sized communities across Canada to turn their bold, community-building ideas into reality. Three projects, including New Horizons, earned extra ‘scale-up’ funding because of their potential to have impact on a larger scale.

“With this funding we’ll be able to put all of the tips and best practices we’ve learned, on how to engage youth and involve youth volunteers, into a tool kit for more than a dozen other organizations like ours,” said Hipson. “We’re also creating webinars – complete with panel discussions – that our staff will lead, and members of our community like Rohullah will participate in.”

The kit also contains information on how to find, train and support the youth leaders who are so important to the program’s success.

“There is a real emotional curve for these young people arriving alone,” said Hipson. “They’re so excited, but then comes disappointment because their expectations for Canada are so high and yet they face so many barriers to full integration into their new communities. Their emotional wellbeing can suffer, but when there are friends to talk to who have gone through the same things it really helps and gives them the motivation to keep trying.”

For Fayizi, who is now a volunteer youth leader with New Horizons, the experience has even inspired him to become a social worker himself. He is currently working toward a certificate in social services from St. Lawrence College.

“Having friends and a community was the single most important thing to help me settle in Canada,” said Fayizi, who, also credits the New Horizons social network with helping him become fluent in English. “Here in Kingston most social communities have already been built, and can be hard to enter. New Horizons is about giving back by showing young refugees how to be a support network for each other.”

For more information on RBC and the RBC Foundation’s commitment to empowering Canadian youth, including virtual programs designed for at-home engagement, visit rbc.com/futurelaunchathome.

Sponsored by RBC Future Launch Community

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