India Rainbow Community Services of Peel organized a one day Youth Forum on 20th October with a theme centered on ‘Embracing Duality of Cultures’. The event was well attended by youth, parents, counselors, funders, teachers and members of various youth organizations.
The purpose was to celebrate the many accomplishments of the Youth Leadership Project (YLP) and to provide a common platform where South Asian youth could collectively address the many challenges they face in bridging the cultural gap. The Youth Leadership Project started in July 2011 with the aim to assist newcomer South Asian families and first generation Canadian youth who struggle with social isolation, depression, peer pressure, family and dating relationships, pressures of high academic expectations and the stress of cross cultural and cross
generational integration. The focus was to empower youth to make crucial links between western and eastern perceptions of interpersonal relationships, education, social norms and cultural identities; and the impact these perceptions will have on their future as adults.
In her welcome address, Kitty Chadda, Executive Director, talked about the many issues faced by youth, their families and the everyday challenges that they face in school; and how it affects their mental well-being. “Youth should be empowered to talk more openly about their mental health. Furthermore, we as a group of service providers need to work together to find answers to the various problems facing our youth today”. She stressed that there aren’t enough youth workers to address this issue and cited the fact that over 500 or so interventions were handled by the lone Youth staff at India Rainbow, and roughly 50% of them suffer from mental health illness and or suicidal ideation. She made an open call to all present to collectively put our resources together and come up with strategies to address the issues faced by youth, particularly suicide, bullying, mental health and wellness.
Sid Sawant, an exemplary South Asian youth, actor and photographer, in his keynote address spoke of his journey in getting to where he is today. He related that school is not only about learning – it is about social and personal relationships, developing one’s personality through extra curricular activities and forming a balanced outlook. He spoke encouragingly about having a 93.5 % average and still not being accepted in the university of his choice. This,
he said can be devastating to some, but with the support of his parents, he changed courses and is perusing what he loves – acting and photography. “At times I felt like I was in no-man’s land – a brown kid growing up in a white world”, said Sawant. “I used art as a form of outlet to release my pent up emotions”, he added. “Canada is a land of opportunity and the reward is magnificent if we can embrace the duality of cultures and look upon it as a privilege and an opportunity, instead of letting one culture totally define you”, he concluded.
Jakki Buckeridge, Supervisor of the Child, Youth, and Parenting (CYP) Program along with Swati Shah, Project Coordinator, gave an overview of the CYP department’s work and YLP, as well as acknowledged the members of the Youth Advisory Committee.
A well-acted out skit depicting the life of a newcomer South Asian youth in conflict with family values was befitting the day’s theme. Poonam Patel, Community Youth Worker, also spoke about how depression, bullying and social media can affect mental health. Interventions rise significantly at the start of the school year, as students struggle to adapt to new environments, friends and cultures.
Rajani Rajeev, a mentor with the project said, “The main reason I joined this project was because I wanted to help youth and make them feel that they are a vital part of our community and thereby boost their confidence”. “I’ve also had a taste of what bullying feels like at school, and promised myself that when I grow up, I would be there for those who need support”.
What is a duality of cultures? Why are bridging communication gaps so important? Why is it important to recognize the impact of settlement and mental health issues? These were some questions debated during the panel discussion which followed the ‘Peace Tree’ a song recited by Ayaz and Mohd. Mushahid. Manju Panchapakesan, Director Operations, recognized all volunteers and Charanjit Luthra, Board Director and Treasurer of India Rainbow gave out certificates to all volunteers.