Healthy Relationships Start Young: How SERC Helps Newcomer Youth Develop Lifelong Healthy Relationships

It is 3:45pm and Bre (SERC Sexuality & Reproductive Health Facilitator) and I are sitting outside a core area school waiting for the acceptable time to go in and take over the classroom. Bre tells me a familiar message I have heard when out with Klinic Teen Talk staff- we don’t want to get in the way of teachers and students as their day is winding down, so we are never early, and never late. It seems to me that this fits with some of the core things we are going to talk about with these students today: how we communicate our needs and respect those of others.

The group we are working with is made up of roughly 16 junior high students who participate in a variety of after school activities through the Peaceful Village Program, our partners in delivering this service. Peaceful Village offers programming that supports integration and literacy for newcomer families and youth. There is additional funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation Investing in Teen Healthy Relationship granting program.

We are in the ninth week of a twelve week session SERC is running, and today our focus is on communication. All groups start with reviewing questions from the previous week left in the question box. The questions are probably my favorite part and include:

  • Why do armpits smell?
  • Why do guys have nipples?
  • Why do some people only like other people for their looks?

Bre’s ability to navigate these questions in a manner that is respectful and engaging is impressive. She is able to talk about basic hygiene tips, anatomy, and the challenges of wanting to be liked for yourself in an easy and disarming way that engages the youth meaningfully.

The hope for today is to use activities to help spark learning about the communication styles that can be helpful in forming healthy relationships. This is the basis of anti-violence and, in particular, gender violence work. We know that if we can support youth to develop healthy relationships young, there is a high probability this can become a life-long habit. We are playing the long game.

I think about the two thousand plus refugees, mostly families with children, which will be relocated to Manitoba in the coming months, and all the conversations that we are having on how we ensure that these newcomers get what they need as they settle. I think of how many of them will join Peaceful Village, and find themselves in a classroom with a SERC facilitator like Bre, looking for help, support, and knowledge as they navigate these new waters. I am glad to know that through programs like these we can hopefully help make it a little bit easier.

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