It was a late night in June 1987, when my family and I landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Arriving late at night meant that the first glimpse of our new home was nothing more than the silhouettes of the never ending pine trees that lined the highway. The next morning, jet-lagged and disoriented, we set out to discover Halifax. After living in the desert and tropical climates, the spring chill of the Atlantic hit us as if it were the middle of winter. The biting breeze was the first of many reminders of the differences between our old home and what would become our new one. Luckily, I had the summer to let the unfamiliar become familiar before starting school and having to contend with the uneasiness of, not only being the new kid, but being the new kid from a different country.
In 1987, over 157,000 (1) people immigrated to Canada, just as my family did. According to the National Household Survey, close to 1.2 million (2) people immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011. One third, or approximately 400,000 (2), of which were children and youth. The rate of immigration is not projected to decline either. In fact, in urban centres such as Toronto, it is anticipated that by 2031, more than three-quarters (78%) (3) of the population could either be immigrants or children born in Canada of immigrant parents.
The face of our cities and towns are changing rapidly, as is the make-up of our schools and the needs of children and youth. Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies are also experiencing the shift in demographics within their communities and mentoring matches. The need to ensure that our mentoring programs are responsive to the needs of newly immigrated (newcomer) children and youth has never been greater.
In 2013, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) received funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to provide mentoring programming to newcomer children and youth between the ages of 6-17. The three-year CIC funded project, called Connections, aims to provide mentoring relationships that assist with English language skills, social integration, self-esteem and support transitioning into a new country, community and school. The project is currently being piloted in Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies in Toronto, Hamilton/Burlington, Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon. To date, we have provided mentoring relationships to 300 newcomer children and youth. By the end of the three year project, we hope to have a total of 1400 successful mentoring relationships.
Sitting in my new school in Halifax in the Fall of 1987, I could have only dreamed of having a mentor to support me in those early days as a new kid in a new land. Today, I am delighted to be working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and CIC on the Connections Project to make it a little bit easier for newcomer children and youth to change the unfamiliar to the familiar.
National Inclusion Advisor
Big Brother Big Sisters of Canada