Moving and starting a new school is challenging for students. You leave behind familiar family and friends and must learn the layout of your new school, your teachers’ names, all while hoping to find a smiling face in the crowd.

Imagine doing all that in a country that is new to you, and with a voice that does not sound like your own.

Recently the YMCA’s Immigrant Services Youth Outreach Program partnered with the Nova Scotia’s Teachers Union (NSTU) and asked newcomer students to share their experience of navigating a different education system in a new country. “What I wish my teacher knew” is an impactful video that features six high-school students who are members of the YMCA’s Youth Action Leadership Team. Developed to promote insight and empathy for newcomer students among Nova Scotia’s educators, the video shines a light on their collective story.

“I’m smart, even if I can’t speak English yet.”

Mwamini Bifakubaho

“When newcomers first arrive, because of the language barrier, they cannot share their experiences and express their feelings right away,” says Fadi Hamdan, the YMCA’s Youth Outreach Supervisor. “At the Y, we empower young people’s voices, especially newcomers. We want them to share their stories, share their resiliency as they navigate their new life,” Hamdan adds.

“Coming to a new country with zero English and having culture shock and all different things around you, it’s scary. It’s too scary not knowing the people around you. I remember the first day I went to school, just sitting in class and listening and staring at people, like I don’t know anyone around me. I was just trying to find someone who looked like me and just talk.”

Aya Ali

This initiative supports a discussion while providing educational documents that were developed by NSTU’s executive staff officer Miguelle Légère. It also acts as a resource for teachers and can help navigate sensitive conversations.

“A lot of students and newcomers came here with no back education because of the war. I am one of them.”

Sayed Amin

The video is being shared with students and teachers across Nova Scotia. The launch of this video allows the featured newcomers to feel empowered and visible. Their stories and struggles now have a voice. “The courage these youth have shown in talking about their experiences will open many eyes and hearts and help teachers and newcomers experience greater success at school,” says Légère.

Youth outreach efforts at the Y continue to create opportunities for new Nova Scotians to create roots and feel a sense of belonging.

“Newcomers are like a tree back home,” says Hamdan. “When you replant a tree from one place to another you lose some of the roots and the leaves. Newcomers lose some of their culture, language and friends. If the tree does not continue to grow you don’t say ‘hey why aren’t you growing’, you try and find out what you can do as a host community to provide a safe space to grow, contribute and belong. When you do that through networking and leadership opportunities, they grow their own roots. Now they have two roots.”