The Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society gives youth a summer camp experience

Scouts Canada's Camp Barnard in Sooke recently hosted a group of young people from the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS).

"We have 15 youth at this camp, eight are from Syria, four are from Iran, one is from Albania, one is from Senegal, and one is from China" says Jasmindra Jawanda, program enabler for children and youth with VIRCS.

"It's the first time for most of them of having a Canadian camp experience, so we're super excited for them, and we can already see how it's impacted and changed their lives."

Aferdita arrived from Albania in 2015, and is having a great time at Camp Barnard.

"At first it's kind of hard because you don't know everyone, but then, it's like, the friendship gets stronger, and then you don't want to leave the camp,” Aferdita said.

“So we're all friends, we're a family."

Coumba, who arrived from Senegal in 2011, adds that "the best thing is knowing that your friends are there to support you when you're sad or something.  Everyone understands each other because many things happen [before their arrival in Canada] and so we can understand each other."

The VIRCS has been bringing youth to Camp Barnard for more than 12 years. This camp is just five days, but it means so much to these young people.

"Youth, and often times immigrant and refugee youth are voices of the voiceless, so a camp like this allows them to express their voices in a safe and supportive environment,” explained Jawanda,

Penny Hill, a volunteer with Camp Barnard, is thrilled to see the kids bonding, learning, and having fun.

"You see our good work not only going for scouting, guiding, and cadets, but for something like refugees coming to Canada, fleeing something like we couldn't even imagine, to come here [to Camp Barnard] to be much better can it be than that?!" Hill said.

The VIRCS is grateful for Camp Barnard's support, which subsidizes the camp.

"They are not-for-profit like we are not-for-profit," says Hill, "So for us to subsidize them to come out here, doing the excellent work that they're doing, I mean, it doesn't get much better than that."

Jawanda says the camp is an important opportunity offered to the young people.

"We, as a society, we have to pay more attention to our immigrant and refugee youth, because they're navigating one of the most difficult bridges in their life,” Jawanda said.

"They're speaking on behalf of their parents who don't know the language, they're making the doctor's appointments, they're talking to the principals, they're doing the shopping, they're taking care of their siblings, they're looking out for work while they go to school.

They have a lot of challenges, and places like this [camp] are so needed for them, to just breathe, and let go of what their responsibilities are in the city."

And if you have a few hours to spare, Jawanda says the VIRCS is always looking for more volunteers.

"Whether it's practising their English together, whether it's teaching them science, even just playtime with them, with our children...we would love more volunteers,” Jawanda said.

"We have a homework club every Tuesday for our immigrant and refugee youth throughout the academic year, and we have a youth night that we run every Wednesday.  We need volunteers."

Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society.