Funded by the largest community foundation in Canada, Vancouver Foundation, Fresh Voices works to improve the experience of immigrants, refugees and other newcomer groups in B.C.
Vancouver Foundation, who has a focus in youth engagement, recognized that the need to engross youth from the immigrant and refugee community exists.
“We thought that it was important to bring an event together where migrant youth come together with policy makers” says Jorge Salazar, project manager of Fresh Voices Grants & Community Initiatives at Vancouver Foundation.
“The diversity conversation in Canada has been about building bridges, but not so much about foundations. That’s what we’ve been doing. Sure, build bridges! But, we need foundations,” he says.
According to Salazar, there is great importance in involving migrant communities in the Canadian democratic infrastructure, regardless of their immigration status. He mentions smaller communities, in particular, should be participating in these exchanges as well.
“There are less of them. There is less opportunity to celebrate their own cultural practices, calendar years, their own way of going about systems, and conversations. We are here to support them,” says Salazar.
With the help of B.C. Representatives for Children and Youth, they began pursuing this project through a series of dialogues and workshops from which their Youth Advisory Team was formed. This group of young immigrants and refugees worked tirelessly and created the first Fresh Voices conference in 2011.
Making a difference
Even from their first conference, Fresh Voices was creating change.
“The youth explained that the term E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) does not reflect their identity. Most youth speak more than two languages. English is probably the third language they are learning,” says youth worker, Yuhan Chen.
When an attending member of the Ministry of Education heard this, they brought this recommendation back to the Ministry. Today, the term is E.L.L. (English Language Learning). A policy shift, such as this one, makes it evident a conference like Fresh Voices is requirement in our community.
“It was interesting for young people to see that they raised their voices, somebody heard and that changes were made,” says Chen.
Salazar considers the conference to be a prime example of civic engagement.
“We had 80 spots and in two weeks, we had more than 180 registrations,” says Salazar. “We just couldn’t keep up.”
He remembers an overwhelming interest, from both community members and elected officials, in the event; both the Vancouver Foundation and the Representative for Children and Youth (R.C.Y.) decided the event should continue.
Fresh Voices Conference 2016
This year, the Fresh Voices Conference will be happening on Dec. 4 and 5 with 200 available spots for attendees.
“We will talk about anti-blackness and islamophobia for the youth component, and for the policy component, we will talk about education and immigration,” says Salazar.
A keynote speaker at this year’s conference will be Deputy Minister of Education Dave Byng. The first day will be one of discussion where youth will be able to learn and engage themselves in conversations regarding current issues within their communities. On the second day, policy makers, elected officials, school board trustees and other adults will be invited to confer with the youth on these topics. The event creates an opportunity for immigrant and refugee youth to raise their concerns and truly influence change within their cities and communities.
Fresh Voices provides a space for migrant youth to meet and discuss the issues at hand and then a platform to voice them to elected officials and other policy makers. “[Our success] is because of the attention given, because of the approach we took, and then the effect we have had,” explains Salazar.
The conference is free of charge and Fresh Voices encourages anyone with migrant background to attend the conference. Registration for the Fresh Voices Conference will be open until Nov. 25. For more information: www.freshvoices.ca