Empowering Youth to Become Changemakers
For the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council, the group leading an Equitas Community Action Project (CAP) composed of youth who are new to Canada, tackling issues related to racism, stereotypes against new immigrants and bullying is key to creating safer and more inclusive communities. As part of Equitas’ Speaking Rights program, this group launched numerous activities in Medicine Hat, Alberta in the context of their CAP, designed to empower youth to speak out about their experiences with bullying and racism. The activities are aimed at raising awareness and educating the general population on how to recognize and address these important issues. Founding this Youth Advisory Council based on a belief in the ability of youth to become leaders and changemakers in their communities, Francisca DeWever, a Settlement Officer for Saamis Immigration Service Association, used knowledge gained from Equitas trainings and toolkits to help empower the youth of her community to speak out against injustice and spark change.
According to Francisca, youth, as the leaders of tomorrow, have the right to be treated with respect and empowered to take leadership roles and use their voices to create change in their communities. Through Equitas’ Speaking Rights program, the youth from the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council were able to identify bullying and racism as the most pressing human rights concerns in their community and were able to devise a plan to tackle these issues.
Awareness and Education
Many of the group’s activities consist of visiting youth groups and youth centers to discuss bullying and racism. All members of Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council underwent training provided by Equitas and have based much of their activities on this training. Francisca highlighted the Speaking Rights toolkit and “Tree of Rights” activity as one of the most important tools provided by Equitas. In this activity, youth looked at the root causes of bullying, how to identify bullying, how to stand up to bullying, and how to be an advocate against bullying. According to Francisca, this activity helped to start conversations on “why people bully” and were productive in helping students understand the root causes in bullying, which in turn informed how they chose to address bullying.
Along with what they learned at the Equitas Speaking Rights training, part of the message that Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council wants to send is that bullying does not only happen in schools – “bullying happens at the leisure center, bullying happens at the grocery store, bullying happens at the shopping mall… sometimes bullying starts at home.” On raising awareness on bullying – and how it overlaps with the racism many of these youth face as newcomers to Canada – youth from the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council are hoping to inspire others to become advocates against bullying and racism, and to create more inclusive communities.
Though these activities had to be adapted in order to fit the public health guidelines imposed by governments due to COVID-19 – these youth are not letting a pandemic stop them! Youth from Saamis Newcomer Advisory Council got creative and will be spending August 2020 in parks setting up booths to continue raising awareness and educating the public on bullying and racism.
Engaging with Decision-Makers
Per one of the suggestions in Equitas’ Speaking Rights toolkit, in order to spread their message and impact even further, the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council invited decision-makers – including police officers and members of City Council – to their meetings and included them in activities. This led to the group being invited to engage with City Council to speak about bullying and racism. At City Council, the youth had a strong message:
“we are here and we are advocating on behalf of all youth who are experiencing bullying and racism… we are letting the community know that this is happening in Medicine Hat, not only to youth but to everyone.”
This engagement with city councillors is a great opportunity for youth to have their voices heard on a city-wide platform and to highlight the issues most important in their lives. Following their trip to City Council, the youth were invited to apply to be represented on the Youth Advisory Board for the City of Medicine Hat. This incredible opportunity offers youth from the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council an opportunity to have an even greater impact through engaging with decision-makers and having their voices amplified. Though this process was disrupted by the pandemic, it will hopefully manifest after the pandemic when council activities return to normal.
Bullying and racism are issues faced by not only youth but are prevalent throughout our communities. Human right education that aims to tackle these issues is important for creating more inclusive societies and promoting a greater respect for human rights. For Francisca, through these activities and with Equitas’ help, the Saamis Newcomer Youth Advisory Council is setting youth up to not only be engaged community members but to become activists and advocates for human rights, who will continue to fight for positive change in their communities.