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Young Leadership Program: Mobilizing Canadian youth in advocacy

Group of people sitting in a class

© Photo courtesy of Culture Link

Collaborative program between UNHCR Canada and Culture Link is bringing Canadian youth a step closer to balancing harmful refugee narratives

By Hodman Ali in Ottawa, Canada and Rana Khan in Toronto, Canada

This past year saw the success of a collaborative initiative between Culture Link in Toronto and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Launched on World Refugee Day, June 20th 2019, the Youth Leadership Program (YLP) is an educational initiative targeted at persons aged 18-24.  The objectives of the one year pilot project were to educate and raise awareness of refugee issues among the youth participants and for their active public advocacy in a variety of forms.

The overall goal of the project was to initiate a generation of youth advocates on the refugee issue in communities across Toronto. Participants from a range of academic and civil society sectors underwent training and gained knowledge on the global refugee situation.  They participated in workshops on topics such as: fleeing war and conflict, raising awareness of violence against women and girls, understanding female genital mutilation, public speaking training, and advocacy work and community engagement training.

“Through my participation in the Youth Leadership Program with Culture Link, I have gained a much deeper understanding of the multi-faceted issues that refugees face in their journey towards a better life,” says one of the participants.

YLP2 (003)

© Photo courtesy of Culture Link

YLP1 (003)

© Photo courtesy of Culture Link

Culture Link reported that 100% of the participants engaged in advocacy work in their communities once they had completed the program. Many of the youth explored different avenues to pursue the greatest impact in their advocacy work.  A majority used their social media platforms while others engaged in public speaking events. At the end of the project, and as a way to assess its impact, participants were asked to share their feedback in a survey.

The feedback was filled with praise for the program, “inspiring them to make a difference and advocate for refugee rights.” Participants reported that they now have a better understanding of the importance of terminology, given its impact of the perception about refugees.

Initiatives such as Culture Link underscore the importance of advocacy and its role in countering an ever-growing negative discourse about refugees. By educating youth, who will in turn educate their communities, UNHCR and Culture Link hope to set the foundation for a project which may influence the positive attitudes towards refugees. This project, in the long-run, will support integration and solutions for some of the world’s most vulnerable persons.

Find Culture Link’s Young Leadership Program final report here