REACH Edmonton

A refugee teen, who used his experience at a summer program to give back to the community, has received a Canada 150 Community Leadership Award.

Naol Tasissa, who has participated in the Police and Youth Engagement Program (PYEP) for the past three years, started out as a participant in 2015 and worked as a youth leader in 2017.

Tasissa says his experience with PYEP not only helped him settle into his new life in Canada, but helped him access services, connect to his community and even offer ways to help newcomer youth benefit from his experience.

The Police and Youth Engagement Program (PYEP) is a youth-driven summer program that aims to build positive relationships between police and youth.

Unique to the PYEP is a deliberate focus on building youth leadership capacity by enabling youth to develop leadership knowledge, skills and attitudes, with an ultimate aim to create new leaders in cultural communities.

"In the first year, I didn't really know anyone, it was my first year of arrival and I just finished going to school for the first semester," said Tasissa.

"Connecting to my community was one of the things I really benefitted from, but also learning about policing and laws in Canada," he said. It changed my whole perspective with the police.

When you come here from Africa your experiences with the police are not necessarily the same as here."

Tasissa said this exposure to local police was beneficial.

"It's really good to bring together different ethno-cultural groups with the police," he said. "I was able to learn more about the police, how they work, things they do, the different facilities they use. It gives communities like ours a better understanding of police and encourages us to consider that profession as well."

Police officers also talked to the students about the dangers of gangs and consent under Canadian law.

"After I became a participant I liked it and I made some new friends from my cultural community and also from other African communities and that's how I met lots of people who really helped me," said Tasissa.

Students also had the chance to meet leaders in their communities who acted as role models.

"We got to talk and connect with lady from EMCN she runs a youth group and she was our mentor," he said. "She helped me with my resume I was able to get my first job. Networking was one of the big things that I got from PYEP."

He now has a job, is working on upgrading his education to prepare for post-secondary and is running an Oromo homework club with the Multi Cultural Health Brokers.

"If it wasn't for PYEP all this wouldn't have been happening," said Tasissa. "It wasn't only fun it was very educational and I learned a lot of things from going to these places. Going to PYEP and meeting people helped me integrate better."

PYEP is a community-led initiative, coordinated by REACH Edmonton, and is supported by the Edmonton Police Service, Edmonton Police Foundation, City of Edmonton and the Canada Summer Jobs Program. The program also relies on partnerships with the Eritrean, Filipino, French African, Middle Eastern, Oromo,  Somali, and Sudanese communities.