Marco Levytsky, NP-UN Western Bureau Chief.
Ukrainian refugees from Bosnia have organized a plan to help refugee youth from the war in Ukraine integrate into Canadian society.
The project, entitled “No Youth Left Behind”, which is organized by the Canadian Society of Ukrainians from former Yugoslavia (CSUFY) and partnered with the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services (UCSS) Edmonton Branch, aims to create a buddy system under which Canadian teenagers will pair with Ukrainian ones and help them adapt to their new life.
Project Manager Irena Struk says that the Ukrainians came from Bosnia to Edmonton to escape the war there in 1993 know what they will be going through.
She was 16 and her brother 17 ½ when they arrived and enrolled in school. They didn’t know how the system worked and the language.
“Students at the school had never seen an immigrant or a refugee before, so they were not prepared to welcome us. They were as scared of us as we were scared of them.
“The Canadian kids would throw mud and rotten food at us. They would beat us up. It was a horrible experience and quite dramatic,” says Struk.
“When we came home, we would start crying and didn’t want to go back. My brother said, ‘why did you bring me here’ to my parents and they said, ‘if you went back home you could be drafted and you could die in the war’. And he said, ‘I would rather die back home in a war than live here’,” she adds.
“Being a teenager is hard in itself but being a teenager who doesn’t speak the language is even harder.”
The “No Youth Left behind” program is for youth in grades 7-12. This program is based on matching newly arrived Ukrainian students with Canadian students from the same school. CSUFY is also partnering with many different organizations that will provide no-cost field trips for Ukrainian students and their buddies.
So far, the program is only set up in schools offering Ukrainian Bilingual Program (St. Brendan and Austin O’Brien) with a possibility of expanding to other schools.
In the school:
● Students will be matched with a Canadian student who will welcome them to school
● Canadian “buddies” will make sure that Ukrainian students feel welcomed to school, they are invited to spend time during lunch with them and introduce them to their friend group.
● Buddies will be responsible to be there for Ukrainian student to help them and answer any questions.
Some of the field trips that are planned outside school hours include visits to: an Edmonton Elks game, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, the Royal Canadian International Circus, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton Valley Zoo, City of Edmonton recreational facilities such as pools, parks, and libraries an overnight picnic and welcome party at the Edmonton Eparchy’s Camp Oselia.
Planned activities include summer camps, game nights, movie nights, dance parties and different sports.
Starting in September, students will be able to get help with their homework by qualified volunteers.
So far 36 teens from Ukraine have signed up, as have 25 local volunteers.
May 14 the first meet and greet of participants was held at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall. Over people 100 attended. The students played breaker games in order to get to know each other.
Speakers included: Ilija Simcisin, President CSUFY; John Shalewa, President (UCSS) Oleksandr Danyleiko, Consul General of Ukraine in Edmonton and Irena Struk.
“I believe this is very interesting and its very good that people from Yugoslavia, who themselves have experienced this, are helping and we are very grateful to them for doing this,” said Yaroslav Moskalenko who arrived in Canada alone two weeks ago to stay with his sister, leaving his parents behind in Ukraine.
“I decided to volunteer because I know how difficult it is to come from Ukraine and not know the language,” said 15-year-old Margareta, a student at St. Brendan’s who came to Canada seven years ago.
All activities and field trips depend on funding and donations. To date $10,000 has been collected.
If you would like more information about the program or to donate, please feel free to contact Irena Struk, Project Manager at 780-860-4190 or by email at [email protected]