The Girls’ Club: Empowering Immigrant
and Refugee Youth in Edmonton

Shelaine Sparrow, Multicultural Family Resource Society

SDGs 5: Gender Equality; 10: Reduced Inequalities

Upon entering the Edmonton Intercultural Centre (EIC), you are immediately energized by an environment buzzing with intriguing diversity. There are small children and adults gathered in the hallways, youth playing in the gymnasium, and a multitude of different ethnocultural groups engaged in various activities throughout the building.

The EIC is home to numerous organizations, including the Multicultural Health Brokers (MCHB) and the Multicultural Family Resource Society (MFRS) — sister organizations working together to improve the well-being of immigrant and refugee families and youth in Edmonton. The MFRS/MCHB collaboration nurtures a culture of support that celebrates the strengths and potential of newcomer families by employing an innovative practice of holistic family cultural brokering, creating community spaces, and encouraging participant-driven programs.

“Girls need to be able to express themselves.”

Over the years, MFRS/MCHB has supported the formation of both youth and parenting groups — providing young people with their own space for recreation and connection, while their parents gather to explore the complexities of parenting across cultures.

The Girls’ Club is a special MFRS initiative funded in part by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It was created specifically to support young immigrant and refugee girls and to address the unique power imbalances that they experience. Tsion Demeke Abate, a leading practitioner in community empowerment, coordinates the Girl’s Club, though she is the first to point out it is the participants themselves who lead the way.

Take, for example, Arsema Sisay, an 18-yearold volunteer with the Girl’s Club, who came to Canada from Ethiopia with her family in 2014. Though Arsema was able to adjust to life in Canada without too much difficulty, she has seen others struggle, and knows that she can help.

“Confidence and speaking up is frowned upon for girls in many cultures, so they tend to be shy,” Arsema explains. “But girls need to be able to express themselves. They need to be confident and speak up or they will be walked over and taken advantage of, especially if they’re new.”

Working closely with Tsion, Arsema and her friend Fana now support weekly sessions dedicated to exploring positive female identity, fostering leadership skills, and creating networks of support.

Throughout the summer, the Girls’ Club also facilitates field trips, creating opportunities to discover and experience new places throughout the city. ”We went to Taste of Edmonton at Churchill Square,” Fana reflects. “We walked around the Square tasting food, then joined the Taste 4 Kids program where kids could play games. Linda and Misha (sisters from The Girls’ Club) taught us a game from their country, Namibia. This reminded Tsion and myself of a game called ‘Suzy’ that we used to play in Ethiopia as kids, so we taught the girls how to play it.”