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Young refugees develop job skills and overcome barriers

By Jean Ko Din
The Catholic Register

09/21/2016

Refugee youth in Calgary are learning essential job skills through a new program run by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

On Sept. 6, CCIS announced the launch of the program that will benefit young refugees in the Archdiocese of Calgary. The Enhancing Refugee Youth Employment Outcomes project will help 48 young refugee, ages 15 to 30, develop job skills and gain work experience.

Calagary Centre MP Kent Hehr presented CCIS with more than $425,000 from the Canadian government’s Skills Link Program fund.

“The whole idea is to help them broaden their skills and knowledge in order to help them participate in both the current and future labour markets,” said Patricia Gallagher, CCIS operations manager.

After fleeing their war-torn countries and spending years in refugee camps waiting for a new country to call home, Gallagher said the biggest challenge refugees face in Canada is integration.

Refugee families must overcome cultural and language barriers as they build their new lives in a strange country. Through the program, youth will be able to create more opportunities to make productive connections in their community.

“The most dangerous thing that can happen is if you have someone skilled sitting around and not doing anything . . . people start to get discouraged,” said Gallagher. “What we’re really doing is building them back up again because that cultural change is a challenge.”

The Enhancing Refugee Youth Employment Outcomes project will run over a period of 20 weeks. Refugees will receive eight weeks of in-class training and 12 weeks of paid work experience in local businesses and organizations.

Gallagher said finding partners for the program was not a challenge. In the past year, CCIS has received overwhelming support from the local community. Since the Canadian government announced its effort to resettle 25,000 refugees last year, many local Calgarians stepped up to support the work of CCIS.

“We’ve been responsible for bringing the refugees to Calgary well before the government announcement, but since the announcement in November, we couldn’t move from all the phone calls and the support,” said Gallagher. “There were many organizations that stepped up in Calgary to take on that challenge.”

Gallagher said for about six months, the phones were ringing off the hook. The staff worked all hours of the day, answering calls from many individuals who wanted to donate clothes, food and other essential supplies. Gallagher recalls a lawyer who called into the office to donate hundreds of brand new baby strollers.
“It was pretty outstanding and pretty significant, the level of support we got from the city of Calgary,” she said.

Gallagher said the new youth employment program is only one aspect of how CCIS works to support the refugee and immigrant families in the city. It runs a series of programs that helps families from the time of their arrival at the airport to their resettlement and employment.

CCIS also provides a community counselling support programs for children and adult survivors of torture and war-related trauma.

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