This blog post was written by Yara Younis, Project Manager of RADIUS’ Refugee Livelihood Lab.
The RADIUS Refugee Livelihood Lab is excited to launch a one-of-a-kind Migrant Systems Change Leadership Certificate (MSCL). The certificate, which will replace our Beyond Borders program, caters to racialized migrants and refugees, particularly people passionate about shifting systemic barriers for these communities.
As we prepare to welcome our first MSCL cohort, I’ve been reflecting on my experience as a past Beyond Borders participant in 2019. I had only been living in Canada for a year when I heard about it. My curiosity instantly peaked, as I had never seen a leadership program designed for people like me. Initially, I put a reluctant foot forward into what would become an unforgettable six months. The program provoked a myriad of emotions that I had kept harboured deep within myself for most of my adult life. I endured that discomfort to welcome openness, listening, empathy, and learning. As stories were shared within the cohort, I began to understand the meaning of community and the importance of relationship building. I learned that the whole group was connected by shared histories and global injustices, despite coming from backgrounds that were worlds apart.
In each session, our group was introduced to various concepts and provided the space to learn at their own pace. I felt empowered to call out my past and current experiences for what they were: acts of racism, discrimination, and internalized white supremacy. More importantly, I could now acknowledge my position as a settler on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh lands. As a Palestinian refugee who always felt detached from my own culture and lands, the program drew connections between the occupation of my country and Indigenous rights in Canada. Not only did it ignite the start of my unlearning journey, but I truly came to understand how much of my identity and history is rooted in colonialism; once equipped with that knowledge, I began to develop my self-awareness and challenge my proximity to whiteness personally, relationally, and systemically.
The learning process was aided by open group discussions on barriers faced by immigrants and refugees, and a safe environment where it was okay to mess up, fail, and still be uplifted. Some of the issues we tackled included civic engagement, health access, financial barriers, labour exploitation, and social isolation. With support from the facilitation team and advisors, each member identified specific problems and developed initiatives as solutions. I addressed the lack of structural support for international students in Vancouver, who can be exploited by academic institutions and immigration procedures. This led to the development of a small-scale and student-led advocacy collective to create a support system. In particular, I focused on bringing people together through the common experience of feeling lonely and lacking a sense of belonging in local communities.
In the end, I left the program with a network of friends and professionals, and an ongoing commitment to change the way I view myself, others, and the environment around me. I hope that fellow immigrants, newcomers, and refugees find a place of belonging and empowerment like I did, which is why I feel privileged to be introducing the Refugee Livelihood Lab’s MSCL certificate to all of you. When applications open next week, we welcome people who have lived a refugee or immigrant experience and are active within various communities. Our team can’t wait to meet you!
The Migrant Systems Change Leadership program is offered by RADIUS’ Refugee Livelihood Lab. This program is made possible through the support of the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund (MAF), the Canadian Western Bank, the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, Columbia College, Vancouver Foundation, and SFU’s Beedie School of Business.