By Tze Liew
When Canada received an influx of Syrian refugees in 2016, Arts students Duncan Bernardo and Dakota Koch had the same question in mind: What can we do to help?
“I reflected on my own experience moving to Spain when I was 12,” says Duncan, a fourth-year Bachelor of International Economics student. “I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. But I was able to make friends because I knew how to play soccer.”
This resonated with Dakota Koch, a fourth-year history student and athlete who believes sports have a positive effect on social integration and childhood development. Combining Duncan’s first-hand immigrant experience and Dakota’s skills in sports coaching, they came up with a simple but brilliant idea – to run a sports and English summer camp for refugee kids, free of charge.
The result was BC Newcomer Camp: providing children aged 6-12 a safe, immersive environment to learn English, play Canadian sports, and be part of a friendly and caring community.
“Moving to a new country and having to adapt to a new environment can be very difficult for newcomer children,” says Duncan. “Our goal is to help them with the adjustment process and give them the skills they need to build relationships in their new home.”
“Moving to a new country and having to adapt to a new environment can be very difficult for newcomer children. Our goal is to help them with the adjustment process and give them the skills they need to build relationships in their new home.”
The camps run July-August, twice a week from 9.30am-4pm. In the morning, participants are divided into small focus groups and taught English by instructors who are also fluent in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi or Spanish. In the afternoon, they learn how to play soccer, basketball, tee-ball and other popular games from local athletes. Campers are even provided with free lunch, halal snacks and transit passes to help them get to camp.
“We want to give kids the tools and confidence to make new friends when they attend school in the fall,” says Dakota.
The duo first started the camp in 2016. Motivated by how much of an impact it made on the refugee community, they worked tirelessly to grow the organization, securing sponsorship, community partners and clients. Now, BC Newcomer Camp is a registered charity that operates two locations each summer: one in Surrey and one in East Vancouver, helping 60 children per year to adjust to life in Canada.
“It’s truly heart-warming to see the children grow,”says Duncan. “We had a nine-year old girl from Iraq named Ward, who at the beginning of the summer could only say “hello” and “no English.” By the end of the camp, she was able to hold a conversation and even complain about not getting enough cookies!”
“It was also incredible to see how passionate Vancouverites were about helping the refugees,” says Dakota. “While fundraising and promoting, we met countless individuals with no direct connection to any refugee community, who were impassioned to give any support they could.”
“While fundraising and promoting, we met countless individuals with no direct connection to any refugee community, who were impassioned to give any support they could.”
Currently, the team is gearing up for another round of camps in July, fundraising for another $10,000 to keep their programs running all summer.
They’re also calling for volunteers: students looking to support a great cause while getting hands-on experience in public relations, grant writing, marketing, curriculum design, human resources, and accounting are in luck.
Interested in supporting the BC Newcomer Camp? The organization is currently looking for support in marketing, accounting and curriculum design and more. Donate or sign up to volunteer on the BC Newcomer Camp website.