News / Ottawa

Ottawa Scouts welcomes newcomers from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq

Since last June, the trilingual scouts group at Saints Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Church has been helping Arabic-speaking newcomers try out Canadian activities.

Members of the troop during the Apple day fundraiser.

Supplied

Members of the troop during the Apple day fundraiser.

Joseph El Hajj recalls the first sleepover his Scouts Canada troop held at their church last November.

“The parents texted me at 2 o’clock. I think the parents stayed awake more than the kids that day,” scouting commissioner El Hajj said. “But overall they saw the benefits for the program, and the kids talked about it for days.”

Since last June, the trilingual scouts group at Saints Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Church has been helping Arabic-speaking newcomers try out Canadian activities, through a mix of sports, outings and spirituality.

Since September, the troop's 51 scouts and 20 volunteers meet each Saturday, running activities in English, French and Arabic. Most come from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

El Hajj got the idea from his childhood days with a scouting troop in Lebanon, before his family fled the country’s civil war.

“It was a bit different. Because of the war, we didn’t have regular meetings. We couldn’t go far from our homes. Here there’s a lot of opportunities,” he said. “There are lots of activities here; great scenery, great places to visit.”

Part of the group’s purpose is to introduce newcomers to Canadian customs, like having a fun-filled sleepover in the church and the Canadian Tire Centre.

El Hajj says allowing some Arabic makes some of the newcomer children feel more comfortable, ultimately helping them to master English and French.

“Some of them never held a hockey stick before,” he said. Now, the group is planning an ice-fishing trip.

Scouts Canada’s marketing director says troops have operated in at least 16 different languages.

“We’re a highly diverse organization; we welcome all people,” said John Petitti.

Petitti has seen Sikh, Ismaili and Mormon groups, as well as cultural communities with no faith affiliation. In Kanata, 30 young Muslims in the Ihsan Scouts delivered a canoe of donations to the Ottawa Food Bank last year.

“It’s helping youth gain the skills they need to be successful in life.”

Scouts Canada counted 61,000 youth members last year, from ages 5 to 26, alongside 20,000 volunteers. Roughly one-fourth of its membership is female, unlike their all-male American counterparts.

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