woman sitting by the ocean

Building Confidence and Empowering Immigrant and Refugee Girls in Edmonton

Girls play a game outside with hoops and rope.

Originally published on Together, Alberta’s Notebook for the Global Goals

Original article by Shelaine Sparrow, Multicultural Family Resource Society (MFRS)

When you enter the Edmonton Intercultural Centre (EIC), you’re greeted  by an environment buzzing with energy and diversity. There are children and adults gathered in the hallways, youth playing in the gymnasium, and a multitude of people from all different backgrounds engaged in activities that range from English lessons to dancing.

The EIC is home to numerous organizations, including the Multicultural Health Brokers (MCHB) and the Multicultural Family Resource Society (MFRS), which are sister organizations working together to improve the well-being of immigrant and refugee families and youth in Edmonton. The MFRS and MCHB collaboration nurtures a culture of support that celebrates the strengths and potential of newcomer families by employing an innovative practice of holistic family cultural brokering, such as mediating between various cultures to create unity and by creating community spaces to encourage participant-driven programs creating community spaces, and encouraging participant-driven programs.

Over the years, MFRS and MCHB have supported the formation of both youth and parenting groups — providing young people with their own space for recreation and connection, while their parents gather to explore the complexities of parenting across cultures.

The Girls’ Club is one of those youth programs, a special MFRS initiative, funded largely by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It was created specifically to support young immigrant and refugee girls to explore their daily lived experiences around identity and belonging in a safe and culturally responsive environment. Our activities are based on the girls’ interests and embed discussion topics in creative activities. Tsion Demeke Abate, a leading practitioner in community empowerment, coordinates the Girls’ Club, though she is the first to point out it’s the participants themselves who lead the way.

Take, for example, Arsema Sisay, an 18-year old volunteer with the Girls’ Club, who came to Canada from Ethiopia with her family in 2014. Though Arsema was able to adjust to life in Canada without too much difficulty, she has seen others struggle and knows that she can help.

“Confidence and speaking up is frowned upon for girls in many cultures, so they tend to be shy,” Arsema explains. “But girls need to be able to express themselves. They need to be confident and speak up or they will be walked over and taken advantage of, especially if they’re new.”

Working closely with Tsion, Arsema and Fana now support weekly sessions dedicated to exploring positive female identity, fostering leadership skills, and creating networks of support.

Throughout the year, the Girls’ Club also facilitates field trips, creating opportunities to discover and experience new places throughout the city.

”We went to Taste of Edmonton at Churchill Square,” Fana says. “We walked around the Square tasting food, then joined the Taste 4 Kids program where kids could play games and learn about nutrition. Two participant girls taught us a game from their country, Namibia. This reminded Tsion and myself of a game called ‘Suzy’ that we used to play in Ethiopia as kids, so we taught the girls how to play it.”

By leading the games, trying new things, and spending quality time together, the girls are developing a strong sense of self and are learning the tools that help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of growing up in two cultures.

MFRS Girls’ Club is a current grantee of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Read more about it here.


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