A Regent Park-based program that turns the tables by having savvy immigrant youth teach adults computer and language skills has earned a prestigious United Nations award. And more importantly some cash, $3,000, which will be used to help improve services.
The fledgling group, which kicked off with a pilot in 2010 and went full time in 2011, is called Youth Empowering Parents (YEP).
As the name suggests it aims to empower new immigrants who have little language or computer skills by partnering them with a youth mentor who is from the same cultural group and speaks their mother language.
The concept caught the attention of a relatively new United Nations program (called the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations) created basically to encourage intercultural exchange around the world.
From more than 400 proposals from 70 countries, they tabbed YEP as one of only 10 to receive the 2011 Intercultural Innovation Award.
"It is both a great honour and a great step towards the very future we envision," said YEP co-founder Agazi Afewerki, in a press release. "This award will certainly help us raise awareness, and attract funding to help us pursue our goal of replicating the program in other communities."
Afewerki and fellow cofounder Mohammed Shafique were inspired to kick off the program by another much vaunted, innovative program, which also got its start at Regent Park - the Pathways to Education program, which helps at-risk youth across Canada finish high school and pursue post-secondary education.
"In communities such as Regent Park, there tends to be a great deal of effort placed towards programs that help youth," Shafique said, in the release. "But there is a lack of attention for helping marginalized adults. YEP is an innovative way of closing that gap, whereby a youth can now act as a service-provider for their community and help an adult through one-on-one tutoring."
Since September 2010, YEP has helped almost 150 newcomers to Canada, with the financial aid of partners including the Regent Park Community Health Centre, Toronto Community Housing, Telus, The Acapella Foundation and the Toronto Community Foundation.
Shafique said they hope to put the $3,000 that accompanies the award toward the purchase and development of an online portal, which will simplify and centralize general administrative functions, track success of participants, and permit YEP the ability to rapidly expand to other communities in need.
Afewerki and Shafique are currently seeking additional partners, grants and funding that would enable them to roll out the program across the GTA, and one day worldwide.
YEP is housed by the Toronto Centre for Community Learning&Development (CCL&D) in the Daniels Centre of Learning. The Daniels Centre of Learning improves access to post-secondary education through programs that include partnerships with downtown Toronto's colleges and universities to offer free courses at the centre, such as college entrance preparation. The centre also offers residents a gathering place and an opportunity for community engagement through digital storytelling, learning circles, and more.