Summer programs are so important for kids. Not only do they give them something constructive to do with their free time in the warmer months, they also provide valuable opportunities for continued learning. For kids who are new to Canada, these programs help give them a hand up before they start school, sometimes for the very first time.

This summer, we saw that impact clearly demonstrated in two young boys who attended our four-week program in collaboration with the Millwoods Welcome Centre. Yusuf* (13 years old) and Emir* (10 years old) are brothers who, at the time of the summer camp, had only been living in Edmonton for 5 months. Though they moved with their family from Turkey, originally, they were from Syria, though neither boy could remember much of life there.

“Mom brought us to Edmonton because she said its better here,” Yusuf tells us.

According to Kelsey, the program coordinator, the family had lived in a refugee camp. While they were in the camp, they learned to speak some basic English. Talking to them now, you’d never guess they’ve been in Canada for less than a year.

Unfortunately, reading and writing was another story, especially for Yusuf.

Once of the main focuses on the summer camp was literacy. Every morning started with 30 minutes of reading. Most of the other kids Yusuf’s age were reading chapter books but he had to start with easier ones.

“It was clear that he was embarrassed that he wasn’t able to read like the rest of the kids,” Kelsey says. “He was quite far behind until one of the teachers got him a really simple, but super cool, Minecraft book. He loved it so much that he didn’t want to give it back and that really helped him embrace reading.”

As far as we can tell, neither Emir nor Yusuf have ever been to school before moving to Canada. The program staff made incredible efforts to help these boys improve their literacy, and that support has really paid off.

Not only has their English reading, speaking, and writing improved, but they also got to make some new friends and experience the world of academics.

“Emir has an incredible ability to get along with anyone,” Kelsey shares. “He was always positive and open to participate in everything, and so much of what we did was academic based.

“I’m so glad that those kids were able to join us for the summer camp,” Kelsey continues. “If they hadn’t they would be extremely set back in their learning. Instead, they got a full month of practice with their English skills and another introduction to life in Canada.”

At the end of the camp, we asked both boys what they’d like to be when they grow up.

Emir said, “I want to be a police or the boss of Canada.”

Yusuf told us, with some help from his brother, that he wants to be a “man who goes to the moon.”

It’s just incredible that these two brothers could transition from living in a refugee camp in Turkey to dreaming about becoming an astronaut or the Prime Minister. This summer camp helped these boys get into a better position to start the school year, and enabled them to dream big. And that’s what we want for all kids.

We are so grateful to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for making this program possible.

*Names have been changed. 

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