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Waad Surbhaji and her husband. Read Waad's testimonial about how the YMCA supports refugees in Canada.

Waad Shurbaji came to Canada two years ago. She was arriving from Turkey, her home for eight years after fleeing the war in Syria. Upon first arriving, she felt isolated and like she did not belong. That all changed when she discovered the YMCA’s Newcomer Services programs in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, Waad is well-established in her new home and is also a valued employee with YMCA BC! 

In observance of World Refugee Day on June 20, we asked Waad about her thoughts on why the YMCA BC’s Newcomer Services programs matter and why they are so impactful for refugees in British Columbia. Read on to see what she had to say. 

Waad Shurbaji’s Thoughts on The YMCA’s Newcomer Services Programs and Their Impact for Refugees to Canada 

When we asked Waad for her thoughts on the topic, she had much to share. “YMCA Newcomer Services programs make a significant impact and difference in the lives of refugees in several ways,” she told us. We broke it down for our readers below.  

  1. The YMCA Offers Valuable Language Support for Refugees 

“Firstly, these programs provide crucial support in terms of language learning. As a newcomer myself, I can attest to the challenges of not being able to communicate effectively in a new country. The language barrier can be isolating and hinder our ability to find employment, make connections, and navigate the system. By offering YMCA classes and programs and other language support, the programs empower refugees to develop their language skills and gain the confidence needed to engage with their new community. 

For example, when I arrived in Canada, I was scared to speak with anyone who didn't speak my language. All I thought of was, “I will look stupid and they will laugh at me.” But participating in a Newcomer Services program with the Y gave me the confidence to talk to people without thinking about my language.” 

  1. The YMCA Provides Settlement Support for Refugees in Canada 

“Secondly, YMCA Newcomer Services programs provide essential settlement support. Navigating a new country's systems and processes can be overwhelming, especially when you come from a completely different cultural background. The Y’s Newcomer Services programs offer guidance and assistance in areas such as accessing education and obtaining employment. By providing this support, the YMCA helps refugees overcome these challenges and establish a stable foundation in their new home. 

When I arrived here almost two years ago, I felt completely lost. I didn't know where to start or what steps to take. I often thought about going back home because everything seemed so unfamiliar and difficult. However, that changed when I attended the Child Care Career Exploration program at the YMCA. They taught me valuable skills on how to present myself professionally, such as crafting a résumé and writing a cover letter. They even conducted mock interviews to help us practice and build confidence. Armed with this knowledge and newfound confidence, I applied for jobs in the child care field. To my delight, I received a job offer. 

The settlement support provided by the YMCA not only helps refugees understand the process of finding employment but also assists in accessing education opportunities. Many newcomers may have valuable skills and qualifications from their home countries but are unsure how to navigate the Canadian employment system. The YMCA’s programs provide guidance and offer information on educational opportunities and pathways. This support is invaluable in helping refugees continue their education or re-establish their professional careers in their new country.” 

  1. Refugees Can Find Belonging and Connection Through YMCA BC Programs 

“Additionally, YMCA programs foster a sense of belonging and community. Being a refugee often means leaving behind everything familiar and having to start anew. The feeling of displacement and isolation can be incredibly distressing. However, the YMCA’s programs create a welcoming and inclusive environment where refugees can connect with others who have shared experiences. 

Participating in various YMCA programs such as fitness classes, cooking workshops, and tennis courses, and attending community events allowed me to discover new hobbies, make new friends, and build a sense of community. These programs provided opportunities for social interaction and helped me connect with people who understood the challenges I was facing. Through these connections, I developed a support system and felt more settled in my new home. 

The YMCA's commitment to fostering a sense of belonging and community is crucial for refugees. It goes beyond just providing practical support; it recognizes the importance of human connection and the emotional well-being of individuals going through the resettlement process. By creating a space where refugees can form social networks, make friends, and share experiences, the YMCA programs play a vital role in facilitating the integration process. 

Personally, I couldn't have achieved this sense of community and belonging on my own. The YMCA programs provided a platform for me to engage with others, learn from them, and build relationships. These connections have made a significant difference in my life as a refugee, allowing me to feel supported, accepted, and valued in my new community. 

In conclusion, the YMCA's focus on fostering a sense of belonging and community through their programs is essential for refugees. It helps alleviate feelings of isolation and displacement, promotes social integration, and contributes to the overall well-being and successful resettlement of refugees.” 

On Why YMCA BC’s Work with Refugees to Canada is Important 

In addition to the above, Waad also expressed to us why the YMCA’s work with refugees to Canada is “incredibly important” and why it matters.  

  1. The YMCA Offers Support and Resources to Refugees 

“Firstly, the Y offers a lifeline to refugees who have experienced immense hardship and trauma, having come from war-torn countries. By providing support and resources, the Y gives refugees the opportunity to rebuild their lives and regain their sense of dignity and purpose. This work is essential for their emotional and psychological well-being, as it helps them heal and move forward from their past experiences.” 

  1. The YMCA Helps Refugees Integrate Socially and Economically 

“Secondly, the Y’s programs contribute to the social and economic integration of refugees into their new communities. When refugees are equipped with the necessary language skills, education, and employment opportunities, they can become active contributors to society. The talents and skills that refugees bring can enrich our communities and contribute to the overall growth and development of the country. By empowering refugees and helping them navigate the systems and processes of their new home, the Y’s programs enable them to establish a stable foundation and achieve self-sufficiency.” 

  1. The YMCA Plays an Important Role in Abolishing Stigma and Negative Perceptions of Refugees 

“Finally, the YMCA's work [with refugees] is important in challenging and dispelling negative narratives about refugees. By providing support and showcasing the resilience and potential of refugees, the Y promotes understanding and empathy among the broader community. It highlights the fact that refugees are not just recipients of aid but individuals with talents, aspirations, and contributions to make. This helps foster a more inclusive and welcoming society that values diversity and recognizes the strengths that refugees bring.” 

Final Word 

We are so grateful to Waad for sharing her thoughts on the YMCA’s work with refugees and why it’s impactful and important. If you’d like to learn more about our programs or participate, please reach out at or visit our webpage. Interested in making an impact yourself? Consider volunteering with the YMCA. Reach out to and inquire about available positions.  

Want to learn more about YMCA Newcomer and Immigrant Services programs in other parts of Canada? Visit YMCA Canada’s website to find a YMCA near you.