Omar Morad: Building community engagement for refugee, newcomer, and established Canadian youth in New Brunswick Published in 2021 In 2018 and at 21 years of age, Omar Morad arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick. Before this move, he lived in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon where he escaped war, violence, and economic hardship. Once he felt settled, Omar was happy and felt “safe.” These feelings impelled him to become active in his community and contribute meaningfully. Omar has become much more than an active community member; he has chosen to become a youth leader. Upon his arrival, Omar embarked on a journey to learn more about his new community, and how he could contribute in a meaningful way. Drawing on his own experience a refugee and an immigrant to Canada, he knew that greater community support was needed for youth like himself. The Founding of the Union of Youth Newcomers In 2019, Omar founded the Union of Youth Newcomers (UOYN) of Saint John. Shortly after that, UOYN partnered with Equitas. Omar feels that Equitas and UOYN are like minded in their vision and reflects on how “youth are the future of the community.” His goal is to bring together young people from the ages of 16-30 to create welcoming, positive, and inclusive experiences through relationship building. These relationships are built between immigrants and native Canadians. What began as a grassroots movement of a small group of diverse youth coming together to do activities and share opinions, has blossomed into an active organization. The Union of Youth Newcomers, although open to youth of all backgrounds in Saint John, aims to bring immigrant youth together from different backgrounds, including international students. Omar is passionate about providing services and programs that promote skill–building and networking opportunities for youth that youth need and want. The goal is that these opportunities are youth–led. Through this collaborative programming, Omar’s vision is that UOYN will inspire other youth who will be encouraged to create more youth community engagement. In Omar’s words, “volunteering and community engagement provide life lessons that cannot be learned in any school.” According to Omar, the use of a participatory approach has been essential in engaging the youth who champion UOYN. Their participatory approach has empowered youth immigrants to develop and reinforce their personal values in a way that has produced meaningful outcomes. The membership of UOYN continues to grow, and younger newcomers are gaining a real sense of their own leadership and how they can support other youth in their community. For Omar, partnerships are key to “providing, support, experience, and funding.” Equitas is proud to share these values and to be a partner! UOYN and Equitas Partnership: The Community Action Project process As a partner of Equitas’ Speaking Rights Program, which promotes youth engagement through Community Action Projects (CAPs), the UOYN participates in youth–led projects that present issue youth face in their communities. Throughout the program, Equitas provides training on incorporating a human rights–based approach where they offer key resources such as coaching and funding for youth. UOYN has assembled a dedicated team of diverse youth and although they are in the early stages of their project, they are creating an event to provide immigrant and Canadian youth with tools for personal growth. Their vision is to have guest speakers present on a range of topics that appeal to youth. These topics will include mental health, community volunteering, lived experiences and more. Although it is the early stages of preparing the community action plan, Omar has observed a tremendous change among the youth who are involved in this project. Omar relayed the story of a young woman who found her voice through the training and resources available through Equitas. She learned about human rights and in the process, and she grew confident and expressive in her own presentation skills. A Ripple Effect Beyond the Community Action Project Together, Omar and Equitas strive for similar experiences for youth who participate and come together through this union. Their shared vision is one that will bring about positive change for youth immigrants. For Omar, he has seen firsthand how community participation leads to action and how there is a ripple effect. He knows that it “encourages and inspires other youth to participate and grow in their individual leadership.” Omar says that this engagement and leadership is particularly important for newcomer youth, who will then create significant change that is needed to support future youth immigrants. Omar’s vision is a collective approach that will be stronger and more impactful through the meaningful collaboration of Equitas, UOYN and immigrant youth – creating change not only today, but for future generations of young immigrants. Did you like this story? There are countless stories that could be told about the amazing changes brought about by people empowered by Equitas’ human rights education programs. Donate here to empower human rights defenders to create real change amidst these complex and uncertain times. Every donation counts!