News / Vancouver

UBC students to host summer camp for refugee children new to Canada

The charity is fundraising in order to give children from refugee families the skills they need to thrive in their new home

EVNC co-founder Duncan Bernardo poses with several participants of the 2016 summer camp in Vancouver.

East Vancouver Newcomer Camp/submitted

EVNC co-founder Duncan Bernardo poses with several participants of the 2016 summer camp in Vancouver.

Two UBC students are gearing up to host a free eight-week summer camp for children from refugee families.

East Vancouver Newcomer Camp (EVNC) will give recently arrived children, ages six to 12, a head start by offering them basic English lessons and organized activities before school starts in September.

The camp aims to teach those children things that many people born in Canada take for granted, such as basketball, baseball, and even playground games like freeze tag and cops-and-robbers. 

“These are games that when they go to school, at recess, all the other kids will know how to play,” said Duncan Bernardo, co-founder of EVNC. 

Bernado, 19, and classmate Dakota Koch, 20, came up with the idea after watching news reports about the struggles Syrian refugee families encounter when they arrive in Canada.

They hosted the first summer camp in Vancouver last year.

“When we first founded this and got this going, we did our research and looked at whether there is a need and is there a demographic that could benefit from this,” said Bernardo.

Ten-year old Asiel Al Fares participated in last year’s program, six months after her family arrived in Canada from a refugee camp in Jordan.

She says her favourite part of camp was playing soccer with her new friends.

“We were sad when we came but then we got so happy, because I had friends and people helped us,” she told Metro.

Speaking English “was easy to learn,” said Al Fares, who will be attending Seymour Elementary School in September.

Many children from refugee families know little to no English when they arrive in Canada, and hiring Arabic-speaking English instructors was a vital step, he added.

Working with immigrant settlement agencies, Bernardo and Koch were able to accommodate 15 participants in last year’s summer camp. This year, they plan to help 60 children. But the expansion comes with extra costs.

In order to accommodate more people, EVNC will host a second camp in Surrey this summer, where many refugee families have settled.

The registered charity has been able to raise $7,000 so far and received a summer jobs grant from the federal government to cover staff wages, but it still needs $23,000 in donations to close the budget gap. Donations would go toward facility rentals, equipment costs, school supplies, meals (participants get lunch and snacks), and public transit passes, according to Bernardo.

He hopes fellow Canadians will support their cause.

“We have gotten some donations from corporations but we are relying on generosity from individuals sand the community.”

The most rewarding part of putting on the summer camps is seeing the children thrive as they gain confidence, said Koch.

“We got a kid who, at the beginning, was so shy and didn’t interact with the other children,” he said.  

“But by the end of the camp he was hesitant to leave because he was even hanging out with the English-speaking volunteers.”

People can donate to EVNC and see a breakdown of what the funds will go toward, here.

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