A group of newcomer youth is helping the City of Vancouver address specific barriers to civic engagement following participation in the Youth Civics 101 program.
From September 2018 to March of 2019, a youth group made up of immigrants and refugees between the ages of 15 to 24, was convened as part of Youth Civics 101 to discuss civic engagement and provide recommendations on promoting youth empowerment within local government. The youth group met regularly to tour City Hall, meet with staff, discuss the functions of City government, and the pathways to participation. Through activities and dialogues, they explored the barriers that disconnect youth from engaging in their city and discussed existing services and resources that support a sense of belonging. This initiative is a joint effort between the Vancouver Immigration Partnership and the City of Vancouver.
Molly Lu, a youth participant in Civics 101, says the meaningful conversation and activities such as field trips to City Hall, visiting the library, and hearing from guest speakers were opportunities for her to grow as a citizen.
“Although civic engagement is a broad term and sometimes not being brought up a lot, being in this Youth Civics 101 project made me realize how easy it is, and how important it is to voice my opinion and know that my thoughts mattered. I started to feel I belong to Vancouver even though I am a newcomer, and I know many people, young or old, are like me (have similar experience). I feel empowered to voice out youth newcomers’ opinions and I will always keep the idea of youth civic engagement in mind and carry it on in the future.”
This work was followed by a two-day design-thinking and filmmaking workshop where youth were guided through a series of visual exercises and storytelling activities to bring their personal stories to life. A creative problem-solving approach was used on key issues facing immigrant and refugee youth in order to develop fresh ideas and future pathways to civic engagement. Participants also learned techniques in creative brainstorming, interviewing, journey-mapping, and storyboarding.
As immigrant and newcomer youth living in a different city, one of the biggest challenges faced is a lack of sense of belonging and knowledge about a new environment. Barriers to civic participation include:
• Cultural differences
• Language barriers
• Discrimination and disconnection from others
• Lack of volunteer and mentorship opportunities
• Lack of representation
• Public spaces that are not youth friendly
• Lack of centralized and relevant information that is easy to access
Through this Civics 101 Youth Engagement initiative, the following recommendations were provided:
• Create volunteer and mentorship programs and services for youth to help develop a stronger relationship with the people and spaces in their community
• Conduct youth‐centered, organized trips and events such as through bus or walking tours so they can learn about the history and culture of those spaces
• Provide resources and tools such as maps for youth to explore and navigate around the city’s attractions, outdoor spaces, public institutions, events and festivals that are youth‐friendly and affordable
• Create opportunities to bring non‐immigrant and immigrant youth together to learn about different cultures and practice communications skills
• Provide opportunities for experiential workshops, tours, ongoing programming in accessible spaces for youth to learn about the functions of local government
• Connect educators with this information and integrate into schools
The City has also released a short video in hopes it will shine a spotlight on this work and encourage more newcomer youth to participate in the civic engagement process.
Over the coming months, the City will look to find partners to take these recommendations and develop resources and tools to facilitate youth engagement, share findings with groups that work with young people, and seek partnerships to further this work.