Reem immigrated to Canada in 2019. She was the eldest child of three, raised by a single mother. Estranged from her mother she took over the roles of both mom and dad to her younger siblings.
In Canada, she was reunited with her mom. There was much conflict in the family home and neither Reem nor her mother were ready to address the emotional turmoil that came with adjusting to a new country and a new version of one another.
Reem was desperate to leave her situation. Her university credentials were not recognized here, so she was only working part time in retail. One day, while on transit she saw a 211 ad (211 connects immigrants and refugees to services). With nothing to lose, she called.
Through 211, Reem was connected to Covenant House Vancouver (CHV) and was offered a bed in the Crisis Program. She was both relieved, but also anxious, because her visions of a shelter were based on the 1982 movie, Annie. She envisioned a day of scrubbing floors and other chores, just to keep her bed in the shelter. Reem was very relieved to find out that this was not the case.
Reem was also relieved to discover that CHV was non-denominational, “I was very happy to know that they [CHV] were inviting of youth from all backgrounds, all cultures, and all gender and sexual orientations.”
“I just knew that I was in the right place because they were very respectful of my feelings and my boundaries. Soon after, trust followed when I met my social worker the next day, and she heard my story and the first thing she asked me was what were my dreams and goals, and I knew that I picked the right place.”
While in the Crisis Program, Reem graciously accepted the programs and services that were offered to her. This included a year-long commitment to dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and one-on-one counselling sessions provided by Foundry.
In addition, Reem was connected to CHV’s Lead Spiritual Care Practitioner, Kadee. Kadee provided Reem with a prayer mat, a prayer outfit, and Tasbih, and henna cones, so that Reem could celebrate and fully immerse herself in her first Ramadan in Vancouver. Reem also attended art therapy and spiritual sessions at CHV. Reem was also active in events like trips to lakes, game nights, and yoga sessions.
Reem’s social worker felt that Reem was not unlocking her full potential and advocated for her to transfer into CHV’s Rights of Passage program. Here she applied for scholarships, became involved in the mentorship program, and received housing support. Her social worker worked with Reem to learn about safe relationships, healthy boundaries, and how she could reach her goals sooner.
While in Rights of Passage, Reem experienced a bad relationship breakup. She didn’t want to sulk, so she decided to try something out of her comfort zone and she entered the Miss Philippines International of BC pageant, which she won. Her next goal is to compete for Miss Asia. “I want to use my title to promote and work on my advocacy. I really want to give back to my community. I just really want to give back and impact the lives of people in any small way I can.”
Since her medical lab science credentials were not valid here, Reem decided to pursue a career in the field of law, where she says, “I feel like that’s more aligned with my values and who I see myself becoming in the next five years. At the moment, I am working as a legal support assistant, just diving into what it’s like working at a law firm and then eventually work towards getting my bachelor’s degree.”
Having transitioned successfully to independent living, Reem attributes her success to the five “I” approach that she believes that CHV’s programs and services meet. “Any program has to cultivate an environment where youth or young adults are a part of something much bigger than themselves. So that sense of belonging to a community, a community where they can contribute to worthwhile experiences and relationships. Here they can partake in their sense of agency.” Here is what each “I” stands for:
- Involved — when youth are involved in their case plan, they learn to trust themselves and are able to make decisions.
- Initiate — at CHV, youth are empowered and can lead or be a part of change. For example, youth can host a games night, can sign up for programming like baking or cooking, and they can participate in surveys as a way to provide feedback to staff on how to better serve youth.
- Inclusivity — when youth feel that they are the experts in their own lives, the ability to reach positive outcomes is accelerated.
- Impartial — As Reem puts it, “When programs are impartial, youth are more likely to mirror that quality outside the program.”
- Intentional — goals and outcomes must be set with the intent of meeting every individual youth’s needs.
“Being here [at CHV], I would say that never in my life would I have imagined being able to speak about what I’ve been through and coming out stronger and more at peace. And that just speaks so much about who I am as a person and what I’m capable of doing. And because being here alone holds so much power, holds so much truth and authenticity in my character that I feel like I can face anything that life has to throw at me. Good or bad.”