Imagine NB is challenging immigrant youth to make their communities better

Written by Oscar Baker

Oscar is an award-winning multimedia reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation and St. Augustine, Fla. Winner of the David Adams Richards award for non-fiction writing for The Violent Ones. Follow him on Twitter @oggycane4lyfe

January 24, 2018

A new series of retreats geared at keeping young immigrants in New Brunswick is focused on building leadership skills in its 28 teenaged delegates representing 10 nationalities to help them start projects that will make life better in their communities.

“We not only wanted to make a program that is educational and fun, but is also action oriented,” said Arianne Melara, program director for Imagine NB, the two-year bilingual program hosted by the New Brunswick Multicultural Council. Delegates are between 15 and 17 years of age. “It provides a platform for immigrant youth to elevate their voices and really help build those leadership skills.”

New Brunswick has traditionally had a difficult time retaining immigrants but that may be changing. The province reported a 2012 retention rate of about 72 per cent, up from 68 per cent in 2008. Just over 3,400 people immigrated to New Brunswick between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, according to Statistics Canada.

Imagine NB’s first retreat was held December 8-10 2017 in Saint John, where delegates from across the province learned about the port city and the different job opportunities in the province. They also networked with other young immigrants and participated in workshops led by community leaders such as Randy Hatfield, executive director of the Human Development Council, who spoke to them about the Local Immigration Partnership, a collaborative approach towards newcomer settlement and integration adopted by Saint John’s non-profit and social development sector. Wicked Ideas founder Lisa Hrabluk spoke to the delegates about the leadership skills required to drive change around complex, or wicked, problems.

The project, which is funded through grants from the federal Ministry of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, aims to expose young immigrants to local opportunities by exposing them to New Brunswick culture and both established and emerging business sectors. The next event will happen February 16-18, 2018 in Campbellton and will focus on mental health. Between now and June 2019, Imagine NB will visit Miramichi, Moncton, Woodstock, Bathurst and St. Andrews.

“As an immigrant myself part of the equation in really excelling in a place is how well you integrate in a place but also how included you feel,” said Melara, who immigrated to Canada from El Salvador when she was 18, and said a program like this could have helped know the possibilities in New Brunswick.

Purnima Sharma is 17 and came to Canada seven years ago from Nepal. Sharma credits the Multicultural Association of Fredericton with helping her to settle and make friends in the capital city. “They got me involved as a volunteer in activities,” she said, adding she and her family knew only a few words of English when they arrived.

Sharma hopes the retreat will help build up her confidence along with leadership skills because she still fears speaking in crowds. “I feel like if I’m confident enough it will help me achieve [my] dreams,” said Sharma.

She’s still deciding what she wants to do but is leaning toward something in the biology field. Sharma was thrilled with the first retreat.

“During the first retreat, I’ve learned that listening is very, very important when it comes to being a good leader. While we were doing a group project, I got to learn that there are many types of leadership and that each of us have a quality to become one,” said Sharma.

“I usually hear elders saying that we youngsters are the leaders of tomorrow but I’ve learned that we are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today.”

To find out how you can get involved contact Arianne Melara at the New Brunswick Multicultural Council.

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