Walking into the Edmonton Intercultural Centre (EIC) you are immediately energized by an environment buzzing with intriguing diversity.There are small children and adults in the halls, youth in the gymnasium, and of all sorts of identifiably different ethnocultural groups engaged in various ways.
The EIC is home to numerous organizations including the Multicultural Health Brokers (MCHB) and the Multicultural Family Resource Society (MFRS) - sister organizations working together to improve the well being of immigrant and refugee families and youth in Edmonton. The MFRS / MCHB collaboration nurtures a culture of support that celebrates the strengths and potential of newcomer families. They do this through a practice of holistic family cultural brokering, creating community spaces, and encouraging participant driven programs that respond to the needs of the whole family.
Numerous Parenting Groups have formed over the years with the support of MFRS/MCHB and from these groups, community youth groups have formed in parallel giving immigrant youth their own space for recreation and connection while parents gather to explore complexities of parenting in two cultures.
The Girls’ Club, a special initiative of MFRS, was created specifically for immigrant girls to address power imbalances they may uniquely experience - a reality recognized by the Canadian Women’s Foundation who partnered with funding. Tsion Demeke Abate, a recognized leading practitioner in community empowerment, coordinates the Girls’ Club but she is first to point out that while activities and topics are presented, it is the girls themselves that determine what transpires.
Arsema Sisay, age 18, learned about the club and was eager to volunteer. “I am a newcomer and know what it is like so I wanted to help other girls.” Arsema came to Canada from Ethiopia with her family in 2014. She says that she herself didn’t have too difficult of a time adjusting but she sees others struggle and she wanted to help. She was joined by her friend Fana to work with Tsion to support weekly sessions aimed at exploring positive girl identity, leadership skills, and creating a network of support.
“ Confidence and speaking up is frowned upon for girls in many cultures, so girls tend to be shy,” Arsema explains, “...but they 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 because they are new.”
In addition to journaling, discussions, and art based activities, the Girls’ Club was introduced to someone who knows about finding the confidence to breakdown stereotypes and overcome barriers to achieve her dream. NASCAR racer Erica Thiering shared her story of being one of the only girl racers in the circuit and invited the Girls’ Club to watch her race (and win!) at the Edmonton International Raceway. [see photo choices] “It was awesome, we were treated really well and the girls were all cheering.”
Field Trips are facilitated often, especially throughout the summer, for youth groups, and participating parents. Participants value the opportunity to get out to discover new places and be part of events that field trips provide. As Fana reflects on summer trips with the Girls' Club, sometimes the most meaningful experiences are more subtle than meeting a girl racer, it might just be moments of sharing and being in the city’s commons.
”We went to Taste of Edmonton at Churchill Square. We walked around the Square tasting food then joined the Taste 4 Kids program where kids could go to play games. Linda and Misha (sisters from the Girls’ Club) showed the rest of us a game from their country, Namibia. This reminded Tsion (Girls Club Coordinator) and myself of a game we used to play in Ethiopia as kids called 'Suzy', so we taught the girls how to play it.”