This Calgary organization helps newly arriving youth find community and a sense of belonging

Mayor Jyoti Gondek with conference co-chairs Pierre Demeulenaere and Jenica Ocampo.  (Omar Sherif/CBC - photo credit)

Mayor Jyoti Gondek with conference co-chairs Pierre Demeulenaere and Jenica Ocampo. (Omar Sherif/CBC – photo credit)

Separation. It’s a sentiment Kristina Salvino became familiar with growing up in Calgary.

The 18-year-old was born in Canada to immigrant parents from the Philippines. Her friends weren’t newcomers. She speaks neither Tagalog nor Ilocano – two languages ​​native to this country.

“It felt like I had no connection to either side,” Salvino said. “I was born in Canada, but I’m not necessarily Canadian. I’m a native Filipino but it doesn’t feel like I’m Filipina.”

She recently said that things have changed for her. She found a community and sense of identity among the people she met through the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth (CBFY) and their annual Power of Voice conference.

It is an event that aims to create a platform for newly arriving youth to develop a greater understanding of voice, identity and well-being.

On Saturday, more than 100 youth between the ages of 13 and 18 filled the auditorium at Calgary Central Library to attend a series of workshops, watch performances and listen to guest speakers from diverse backgrounds – including a police officer who is part of the Diversity Resources team, an LGBTQ recording artist, as well as a homelessness, addiction and mental health advocate.

“Things like this definitely make me feel more connected to a community that I feel lost with,” Salvino said.

Omar Sherif/CBC

Omar Sherif/CBC

Jenica Ocampo led the team that organized the conference. She came to Canada with her parents at a young age and says it was a learning process for her to adapt to society.

There were cultural concepts and nuances that neither she nor her parents knew how to handle. It’s something she sees reflected in those who attended her conference.

“I have quite a connection with youth. Growing up as an immigrant myself, you know there are things that I wasn’t aware of and even my parents weren’t aware of,” Ocampo said.

A resource like the power of voice, she says, would have been valuable throughout her upbringing.

“We want young people to be inspired by our guest speakers and to know that they are not alone in their feelings,” she said.

“The goal each year is for the youth to know that there are places to go, but also… that this is where they belong in Canada.”

While the conference is aimed at people between the ages of 13 and 18, one attendee hopes opportunities like this will expand and become available to even younger people.

Omar Sherif/CBC

Omar Sherif/CBC

“I would really love it if it were more like that for new immigrants because there are a lot of kids that go into elementary school or early junior high,” said Natalina Tesfe, who came to Canada in 2018.

She has been a mentor through CBFY and says it is a way for her to give back something that has helped her feel a part of the community.

But as immigrants of all ages continue to pour into the country, further expansion to other school levels can only be a good thing, she says.

“It really shaped me, like it had a huge impact on who I am today. So I feel an obligation to help others who are in my shoes,” Tesfe said.

“I would really love it if I got the opportunity sooner.”

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