These were some of the feedback notes left by the girls who attended the conference. We are thrilled that they enjoyed the day!

The vibrations of a tribal drum signified the opening of the YMCA’s all-day conference held recently for immigrant girls. Sponsored by After the Bell/Newcomer Girls on the Move program, the conference began when Rebecca Moore, a Mi’kmaq woman, singer, artist and activist from the Pictou Landing First Nation played the Honour Song.

The conference, held on July 16, 2016, focused specifically on creating a safe space for immigrant girls to engage in a variety of activities and workshops by providing opportunities to learn, share and connect with each other, create more self-awareness and empowerment, and offering a chance to discuss issues that impact them personally.

A lively discussion ensued during a facilitated discussion on rethinking beauty. The girls shared information about beauty standards in their countries of origin, and talked about the particular pressures and expectations placed on women.

“It’s good that we talked about beauty standards and what people think is normal. In my country women are more curvy,” said De De Koumako, 19, from Ghana, who has lived in Canada for 11 years. “When I first came here everyone was really small and I thought, ‘oh I have to be smaller’ and I’m not that big, but thought I had to be smaller still. It makes you kind of insecure sometimes.”

“Today we learned about a lot of different things,” said Dania Al Halwani a 14 year-old Syrian who arrived in Canada just five months ago. “We talked about what we wear, like a hijab, and how it’s different in other countries. I think it’s good for everyone to understand it’s our choice.”

The learning and collaborating continued between workshops with excited chatter throughout the hallways and even an impromptu dance session erupting in the gym. The girls shared different cultural music and dancing, teaching each other, YMCA staff and conference facilitators, a few dance steps.

The YMCA secured an Arabic translator for each conference activity to ensure that even the most recent newcomers from Syria could share their thoughts and understand the conversations.

During the day’s discussions several of the Muslim girls also talked about the challenges they face when participating in physical activity, specifically in a co-ed situation.

“Women’s only spaces are really important in creating safe and accessible spaces so newcomer girls and women can be more physically active,” said Briana Miller, the YMCA Youth Outreach worker who organized the event. “Many of the girls here felt comfortable enough in the women’s only space to not wear their hijab during the physically active afternoon.”

The impact of a program such as this is often difficult to measure. With the atrocities some of these girls have witnessed in their young lives, a simple comment from one participant, “I smile today,” carries a significantly deep meaning.

We would like to thank our long-time community partner Newcomer Girls on the Move and all of the volunteer presenters. This conference would not have been possible without your generous support.

Presenters:

Tameera Mohamed
Mariyamu Namakanda
Rebecca Moore
Chenise Hache
Odette Gbeve
Nesrine Elmsary
Halifax City Soccer