Starting Over — the Resilience of Youth

Imagine, you’re a teen who has just graduated from high school. You love your city, and you have your network of friends. Your father is known in the community as a supporter of women’s rights. Then things change. Your dad becomes a person of interest to a group in power. Suddenly, every night, one of your siblings has to stand watch, while the rest of you sleep. One day, there is a direct threat against you. What do you do?

You have to leave everything and everyone that you know behind.

Amalie comes from a large family. Having previously escaped their homeland, Amalie’s older sister facilitated Amalie’s departure through a travel visa. Amalie arrived in Canada during the pandemic.

Amalie’s sister was in CHV’s Rights of Passage program at the time, and Amalie followed suit.

Amalie believed in the importance of education and began school right away. Initially, Amalie wanted to be a nurse, but changed her mind and decided that she wanted to be a dental hygienist, because she was aware that many newcomers to Canada, including herself, did not have access to a dentist.

Amalie had a progressive father, so she had choices as to what she wanted to pursue in school. Back home, women could only learn about subjects that their fathers wanted them to learn.

Amalie’s new dream was fraught with many hurdles. Like many newcomers to Canada, Amalie’s credits from high school back home were not recognized. Not only did she need to retake a bunch courses, but she needed to take them in English. Adding to the barriers were elements like having to take social studies, in order to take the citizenship test; she needed to expeditiously learn how to use a computer, as they were not used back home; and nuances like having a desk to work at, rather than sitting on pillows on the floor. To support her, CHV staff provided Amalie with tutors. Amalie told staff that the most challenging part of school was learning the same material that she studied back home in English, because things didn’t make sense to her in English.

Amalie was taught that she shouldn’t ask for help. Knowing this, staff at CHV had electronics waiting for her in her room, when she arrived — everything that she would need to do her schoolwork and keep in touch with her family. Not knowing any better, Amalie accepted them as if this was standard practice.

Adjusting to a new country and a new life was just another layer added to Amalie’s experiences. It took her quite a while to really experience the culture and life in Vancouver, because for the first year, everything was online due to COVID. It was like being reintroduced to a culture, but really, for the first time.

In addition to supporting Amalie with her educational pursuits, CHV connected Amalie with dental care, counselling, and to newcomer services, like S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Amalie is very active in the Rights of Passage program. She participates in the Mentorship Program, she stays connected to her culture through CHV’s Spiritual Care Services, and she accesses life skills training. Some of the life skills that Amalie is learning include oral hygiene, the importance of nutrition, how to do laundry, how to plan for your day, how to pack a lunch, our healthcare system, how to shop and how to cook.

Amalie was resistant to learn how to cook because to her, cooking was a traditional role that women had in her country. She agreed to learn once it was explained to her that she didn’t need to learn how to cook for a family, but she did need to learn how to prepare meals for herself.

Shopping had always been done for Amalie, so she found clothes shopping to be quite overwhelming. She found grocery shopping was similarly challenging, until staff connected Amalie to stores that sold food that was familiar to her.

Amalie was resistant to seeing a doctor, because she was fearful that doctors in Canada reported to the government. All of the nuances of life in Canada that many of us take for granted, like taking transit, paying rent, the fact that sirens came from first responder vehicles and were not the indication of an air raid, and understanding that you can receive money from the government that you don’t have to pay back, Amelie has had to learn or relearn under a new lens.

As Amalie is starting to settle into this new life, she has begun exploring her artistic side. Amalie loves to play guitar and sing and really enjoys karaoke nights in the Rights of Passage program.

There are still many things that Amalie hasn’t been exposed to, like learning to swim, ride a bike, or drive, but she has come a long way and is now learning how to advocate for herself.

After two years of being at CHV, the trauma that Amalie has been so careful to keep hidden is now beginning to surface. Coming from a war-torn part of the world, the horrors that Amalie has witnessed and experienced are many. CHV has connected Amalie to VAST, where she can share her stories in an environment that caters specifically to supporting refugees and other newcomers, who have endured torture, trauma, and political violence.

There are many more aspects and elements to Amalie’s story. It’s incredible to think that such experiences and circumstances can befall a person who is only 20 years old. With CHV’s support, Amelie is confident that she will succeed at her new life here in Canada.

What’s next for Amalie? Through CHV, Amalie is currently enrolled in the YMCA job training program so that she can make a decent wage, because on top of everything else, Amalie has an obligation to help support her family. But the big news is that this fall, Amalie returns to school to complete her math credit — the last credit needed to complete her secondary education. She needs to achieve a letter grade of a B in order to apply to UBC to be a dental hygienist. Amalie wishes to live independently on campus at UBC, just like her older sister is doing now.

You got this, Amalie!