Playing time: 
Kurdish Initiative for Refugees summer program participants visit Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

A summer program intended for newcomers to Canada is bridging gaps between diverse communities.

Four days a week, participants in a day camp run by the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees (KIFR) learn English, practice Arabic or Kurdish literacy, go on field trips around Manitoba, do crafts, dance and play sports. The older participants take workshops on subjects like photography and videography. 

Nisan Moussa and Jomana Alhariri play a game with other children participating in a summer program for Syrian and Kurdish newcomer children and youth.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

According to Nour Ali, the founder of KIFR, who was sponsored by Douglas Mennonite Church and MCC to come to Canada, the aim of the program is to provide a safe place for the participants to learn and become more comfortable in a new setting.

But it’s also a safe place for the newcomer children to learn more about their new country.

This summer, a group of 45 youth visited Brokenhead Ojibway Nation north of Winnipeg to learn more about the history and culture of Indigenous people in Canada during the community’s annual treaty day celebration and powwow.

Nour Ali came to Canada in 2012 through Douglas Mennonite Church and MCC and is working to support the Syrian refugee community of Manitoba in all he does. He’s currently facilitating the summer program for Syrian and Kurdish children, youth and young adults.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

“It’s very important for us to teach them what happened in the past and what’s happening right now. That’s why we do education (at the summer camp),” Ali says.

He adds: “It’s very important to build the bridge between newcomer communities and Canadian community. We do education, we do sports, we do crafts, but we’re also building bridges between these communities.”

According to Chief Deborah Smith of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, it was an incredible experience.

“The expression of interest they showed by coming to visit us, that was huge,” she says.

Nour Ali (back, in white shirt) dances with KIFR volunteers and members of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.Facebook photo/Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

Vince Solomon, the former Indigenous Neighbours coordinator for MCC Manitoba and Anglican priest at St. Philips of Canterbury Church at the Brokenhead community says it’s important for newcomers to meet Indigenous people and learn from them to combat stereotypes they sometimes internalize.

“When I worked for MCC, I would go and talk to refugees and newcomers and one of the things that I was told is that they’ve never met an Indigenous person before. So their views had changed from the ones they had before,” he explains.

Solomon helped MCC Manitoba create a resource for newcomers about the Indigenous people of Canada.

The guide for newcomers – that tool was one of the most important resources that I had pushed to have done,” he says. “This (gathering between KIFR and the Brokenhead community) is another great way for newcomers to get to know the First Peoples of the land by engaging with them and seeing that perhaps there is a different view from what’s out there.”

Syrian children get their faces painted by volunteers at a gathering for refugees in Winnipeg. Many of them are taking part in a summer program run by the Kurdish Initiative for Refugees, which aims to help them transition into life in Canada with a bit of support.MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

The summer program started three years ago with just 35 children and now serves ten times that number in four locations in Manitoba – three in Winnipeg and one in Brandon.

Ali says financially stable parents have a number of choices of what their children can do in the summer time. The same isn’t true for new immigrants.

“For newcomers, they’ve just come here and some of them they have big families. They can’t afford to send their kids to camp. They also have no trust to send their kids because they come from isolated communities and don’t always speak English,” he says.

The summer program is made possible through a grant from the Canadian government and is facilitated by KIFR.

Chief Smith said the field trip to Brokenhead was also an opportunity for members of her community to learn from the group of Kurdish and Syrian youth.

“The whole exchange of knowledge, history and customs and to learn about them and their experience –those things are critical for relationship building,” she says. She hopes to host a circle together and have more cultural exchanges in the future.

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