Eritrea is a small country located in the Horn of Africa. Having only recently ended a long and violent war for independence from neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea is a country that is mending and rebuilding. Peace deals have been forged and families, torn apart by conflict, are reuniting. In February of 2019, 12 year old Miriam traveled more than 7000 miles from Eritrea to Canada to be reunited with her parents, whom she hadn’t seen since they had left her in the care of her grandmother when she was just 8 months old.

When she arrived in the Edmonton airport, an airport employee had to point out who her father was because Miriam didn’t recognize him at first. She was introduced to two younger brothers whom she had never met before. The reunion was bittersweet. Grateful to be returned to her parents and brothers but fiercely missing her grandmother whom she had called “Mama” for almost her entire life, Miriam knew that the challenges ahead of her would be great – at times they would even seem insurmountable. But only two days after arriving in Canada, Miriam attended her nearest Boys and Girls Club with her little brother Joshua (who had been attending for the past two years). She was determined to succeed in this new country and wasn’t shy about seeking the resources to do so.

The Club Coordinator describes Miriam as a “spitfire” because of her indomitable will to conquer the challenges in front of her. Though she spoke a little broken English when she arrived, the language barrier at school made learning difficult for Miriam. Her mother speaks no English and can’t help Miriam with her homework so Miriam brings her assignments to the Boys and Girls Club and gets homework help from the volunteers and workers there. This mentoring has been invaluable for Miriam, and she is always excited to report back to the staff the positive feedback she receives from teachers and assignments that she has done well on.

One of the challenges newcomers to Canada face are the unspoken social customs that many of us take for granted. Luckily for Miriam, the Boys and Girls Club is a safe place to freely express herself and ask questions about things she doesn’t understand. On one occasion, Miriam was teasing her friend without realizing that what she was saying could be misconstrued or insensitive. A staff member explained to Miriam that she should be careful with her teasing so that it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Now, Miriam is quick to check with other club members, always asking “are you ok?” and “does this make you feel uncomfortable?” Sensitive and kind, Miriam works hard to make sure that the Club remains an inclusive and welcoming space for everyone.

As she learns new Canadian customs and traditions, Miriam is quick and eager to share her own. At a recent talent show she performed an Eritrean cultural dance. When the Club visited a senior home, Miriam shared cultural music and dances with the residents. She loves to participate in the cooking activities at the Club and has shared Eritrean recipes with the other children and staff. Her heritage is an important part of her life and the Boys and Girls Club provides her with lots of opportunities to share it.

The Club has been a big support for Miriam and her family. Because of the resources available to her at the Club, Miriam’s English has improved, she has gained new friends, and she has a safe space in which to express herself and improve her social skills. The Club has also provided Miriam with many new experiences that she might not have had elsewhere. On a fieldtrip, provided by the Club, Miriam went swimming for the very first time. She was so excited to participate in the swimming lessons and was thrilled when she passed the swimming test. “I love coming to the Boys and Girls Club!” Miriam tells the Club Staff, “It’s just so fun and I can ask so many questions!” We hope Miriam maintains her curiosity for life and never stops asking questions. At the Boys and Girls Club we do our best to foster that kind of zest for life. We want every child to feel as hopeful about the future as Miriam does.

*Names have been changed to maintain the privacy of the individuals

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