Originally published in the Mississauga News.

A program in Mississauga is helping at-risk refugee youth’s mental health with the simple act of teaching photography.

The project, called Flash Forward Photovoice, was founded by Marwa Khobieh and Amina Jalabi in Montreal in 2016 and is now operated out of the Syrian Canadian Foundation in Mississauga by Khobieh and photographer Walaa Mousli.

The class, held bi-weekly on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., focuses on the mental well-being of youth 12 to 17 by promoting self-expression through photography.

“As you know, mental health has a stigma, so indirectly we focus on promoting positive mental health without them really noticing it,” Khobieh said. “That’s how they document their integration in Canada, like their first day of school and what they’re experiencing.”

For example, she said, students are asked to photograph different parts of their lives and show them in class – topics like bullying and social skills come up which are then discussed and addressed in healthy ways.

“In the first part of the class, we talk about bullying or coping with stress in a fun and engaging way and in the second part of the class they are paired up with another student and learn photography skills,” Khobieh said.

The Syrian Canadian Foundation said a recent community consultation event showed that 75 per cent of refugee families surveyed experienced bullying or racism and 63 per cent face significant issues building social connections in Canada.

Nabeel Alkhayat, 14, moved to Canada from Syria 11 years ago. He has been attending the program for six months and hopes to continue as long as he can.

“The program here is really good,” Alkahayat said. “It teaches trust and photography and helps me make friends outside the program.”

The techniques taught in class, such as different icebreakers and social skills, can be applied in other areas of life, he added.

The program, Khobieh said, requires $20,000 in funding, which was acquired from NSCAD University for this year.

However, due to high demand, she said, they have added a crowdfunding campaign in order to continue the program for the following year.

“There aren’t a lot of programs like this for refugee youth out there,” Khobieh said. “And for the ones out there, like English classes, etc., there is a long waiting list. I think the youth really benefit from this.”

For more information on the crowdfunding campaign visit www.launchgood.com/campaign/support_at_risk_refugee_youth#!/


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