By Marisa Mariella
Head of Student Services, CHS
What could be more Canadian than embracing winter with hot chocolate and outdoor skating?
Thanks to the efforts of SWIS worker, Jupiter Deveau and Youth Mentorship Coordinator Osama Al-Taie, over 30 students from high schools across both boards recently enjoyed a traditional outdoor skating experience at Hamilton’s Waterfront Outdoor Rink. As most of these students are new to the country, this event gave them their first experience on skates.
“We see the need, so we created an opportunity for the students to have fun, to explore what’s available in the community, and to start building new memories in this country,” reported Deveau. “Ice skating is a new thing to most of the students and seeing their smiles while having fun on the ice is very fulfilling.”
The students met at the rink, many of them taking buses from across the city, learning valuable life skills in communication and problem-solving. Thanks to manager Kevin Warnock, the students were welcomed with discounted rates. The staff even opened the skate rentals earlier than usual to accommodate the eager students.
“Skating was fun because I got to experience it for the first time with my friends. And I realized that although I don’t like winter, I can enjoy it by simple activities such as skating,” offered Danait Mulugeta, a 16-year old student from Cathedral High School who arrived from Eritrea last year.
“I’m very proud of the youth mentors who stepped up and made this trip a success. We had wonderful students who volunteered to make our newcomer students feel comfortable participating in an intimidating activity that they’ve never tried before,” added Al-Taie.
Most people agree that immigration is deeply rooted in our Canadian history, but at the same time, most people may not truly understand the challenges that newcomers face. Especially for young people, the move from their home country to Canada can leave them facing difficult barriers with the language and culture. Fortunately, for these students, their SWIS workers offer support in many ways.
“I am prone to build up stress from different areas of my life and it makes me feel unstable,” shared Kyle Toca, an 18-year old Cathedral High School student who just arrived to Canada from the Philippines a few weeks ago. “Participating in the skating trip is a good way to relieve stress and boosts mental health. Not only that, it makes me relax! It is one of the best way to loosen up, have fun, make friends and create unforgettable memories.”
Watching the students over the course of several hours, it was obvious that it did not take long for them to shed their fears and stress. Their posture became a little more relaxed, their laughter echoed across the rink, and their cell phones captured as many moments as possible.
And as 18-year old Cathedral student, Orane Thompson who arrived from Jamaica last year, expressed, “…no matter how many times we fall, we should always get up and keep trying.”
And what a valuable life lesson this is for everyone! Embedded in a fun-filled experience, these teens not only were immersed in a Canadian cultural experience, but their joyful resilience reminds everyone of the importance in getting back on your feet, leaning on someone when you need help, and finding inspiration from mother nature.
“This trip was filled with excitement! It gave many newcomers including myself a chance to participate in something that we may not have done before. For many, it was challenging but for some, including myself, it ended with us garnering a new skill as well as learning a life lesson,” added Thompson.
Duncan Pitkeathly, from Glendale High School felt that message too. “Being able to support newcomers to skating was an awesome experience. I saw them develop from people who were scared to go on the ice, to racing each other. Whenever I saw them having fun, I felt as though I had to join in. At one point the group hung on to each other! That was particularly fun, especially when everyone fell over. All you could hear was laughter. The rink had an exciting mood all day, and I would totally do it again.”
The event extended beyond the afternoon and into the evening, as the students lost track of time! Fortunately, the hot chocolate and homemade muffins didn’t run out!
"It was lots of fun and there were a lot of students there. I really liked the skating train that we made and I met new friends from different schools. It was nice meeting friends to hang out with outside of school and I would like to go skating again" summed up Ahmed Alalian, 17-year old St. Jean de Brebeuf student from Syria.
The students who attended were:
Marla Mae De Layola
Aira Delos Reyes
Arlex Delos Reyes
Kyle Renzy Toca
Ephraim Delos Reyes
Ikram Ali Hassan