Together Project

Meet Sudanese Newcomer Youth, Khansaa!


“My family was really lucky to be in this program. We are much more empowered.”

From an early age, Khansaa Kafana has had a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. Her family had fled from Sudan to Egypt, and when the family decided to try coming to Canada, the burden fell on Khansaa’s teenage shoulders to get the paperwork ready for her parents and siblings.

Out of the family of six, she had learned the most English from watching movies and listening to music, so she became the one in charge. 

“In Egypt, for anything related to coming here, I would have to go to Cairo to complete our paperwork. Sometimes, I would break down and cry, thinking, ‘I’m not the oldest— why is this responsibility on my shoulders?’ But now, I feel grateful for the experience because I’m stronger and more mature for my age.” 

When Khansaa thinks of the refugee community in Egypt, she knows that without persistence, many of them will find it hard to leave. 

“They don’t have a Khansaa who is looking after the paperwork, going from one place to the other to make sure they have everything they need to emigrate,” she said. “I’m strong and I don’t give up.”


Peel Multicultural Centre

Seven months after arriving in Canada, they were referred by a caseworker at Peel Multicultural Centre to Together Project’s Welcome Group Program, which connected the family with a team of dedicated volunteers to help them integrate into Canadian society. 

Khansaa is grateful for the caseworker’s advice. “She told me that basically, it was a program for volunteers to help us with different questions about everyday life.”

Keeping with her leadership role in her family, at 23 years old, she became the family’s main contact in the Welcome Group Program.

“My family feels that when they speak to somebody, they’re very careful that they’re not saying something weird or foreign. They’re always nervous when they reach out to people,” she said.


The Welcome Group

The family was supported by a Welcome Group of four volunteers– some of whom had come to Canada as newcomers themselves.

“The team was a super one— especially with Wesam and Sara. I felt comfortable with everyone because they created a WhatsApp group and I could finally ask any questions and they would be answered right away,” she said. “We had regular meetings online or over the phone. We needed help with multiple things and we scheduled calls to go over everything.”

For Khansaa’s family, learning how to use a credit card was a top priority. “When I met with our group, my family was so confused about how to pay credit card bills and how to use a credit card,” she said. 

With one of the group members having bank employment experience, the family felt like they were in good hands. 

“The meeting was very comforting, and it was more than two hours long,” she said. “They went over everything and it felt very reassuring.”


Together Project Staff Support

Khansaa said that at one point, the group wasn’t available, and Together Project staff member Ahmed Barbour had to step in.

“I needed help with translation so I could apply to Sheridan College, and the group really wanted to help me, but they were too busy,” she said. “Sara was able to ask Ahmed, and he helped me communicate with a college counsellor so I could apply for my program. I’m going to invite him to my graduation one day!” 


Support From Volunteers 

Group lead and long-time Together Project volunteer Sara Awad was very engaged, and her constant support meant a great deal to Khansaa.

“I would call her multiple times a day just to ask questions, and we would talk about the help I needed, and then also just about life. Sara would call multiple times a week, too. It was so easy to reach out.”

Other volunteers, like Samira Kareem, helped with English practice. “We would have video calls, and all of us were there— my siblings and parents.” 

The family also wanted to know about how they could find the right food for their needs. 

“In the beginning, finding out which products were halal was causing us trouble. The group taught me how to use an app so that we could scan what we see, and figure out if it works for us or not,” she said. 

“They helped us sign up for a halal food bank and a furniture bank, too. They were continuously helping us out with government letters that we didn’t understand. They helped us connect with the YMCA so we could enroll in ESL classes, and now the whole house is studying.”


Becoming a Youth Volunteer 

Sara also encouraged Khansaa to try volunteering in Mississauga so she could make friends her age. 

“She helped me apply to volunteer at a community centre near me, and then at the NCP (Newcomer Centre of Peel). When I worked on this with Sara, I was hesitant at the beginning, saying I didn’t feel ready, but Sara said it was the time to do this to get experience, and that it would look good on my CV and help me in the future. She was right!” Khansaa said.

“In the community centre, I met a lot of students with all different nationalities. Speaking English and meeting new people, and going to places like the museum and Ripley’s Aquarium with them was so interesting and fun. We even spent five hours walking around U of T— the restaurants, the dorm, the student complex— and we met university students, too. I’d advise any newcomer youth the same way that Sara advised me.”


Advice for Youth in the Welcome Group Program

When Khansaa first met the Welcome Group, she was only 21 years old. For refugee newcomer youth who will be meeting their Welcome Group for the first time, Khansaa reminds them not to be nervous. 

“Get as much benefit from the program as you can,” she said. “Don’t shy away at all from asking questions; don’t get it into your head that a question isn’t a good one— if you want to know something, the best thing is to ask when you don’t know.”

Tips for Volunteers Working with Youth

For Welcome Group volunteers who are supporting newcomer youth, Khansaa advises them to manage their expectations.

“I hope that anybody who would volunteer with youth will remember where the youth are in their life journey. Expectations can be different,” she said. 

“If the volunteers have kids, they can likely relate to the youth experience. So treat them like their age, but not like adults. Don’t treat them as people who have matured, but as people who are still starting.”


Knowledge Leading to Empowerment

Now, at 22 years old, Khansaa is attending an upgrading program at Sheridan College, with dreams of becoming a nurse in the future. She sees how the volunteers have helped her get onto the right path for her future.

“I’m a big fan of volunteering. I saw, firsthand, when we landed in the hotel, that the caseworker had too many families to work with. If you’d go to the same caseworker twice in the same day, they might not recognize that they saw you earlier because of their workload,” she said. 

“But the Welcome Group showed us everything related to life: how to go to the pharmacy, open a bank account, take the bus— the daily things were made easier because of the group.”

And for Khansaa’s family, receiving Welcome Group support meant that they were able to share their knowledge with others.

“After we came to Canada, we stayed connected with some of the people who were on the flight with us. I feel that my family was really lucky to be in this program– we are much more empowered than other newcomers who arrived in Canada with us,” she said. 

“If other newcomers had to ask a question, they’d ask a caseworker, but they could be delayed in getting help. So it makes a big difference, having a group that we can reach out to anytime. I’m very proud of my family’s experience because I can see the difference. Now we help other people, we reach out to our neighbours,” she said.

“In Islam, we say, ‘If you work, God will work with you, but you can’t stay still, you have to keep moving forward,” she said. “I want to be part of this program in the future so I can help others move forward, too. I encourage everybody to volunteer in the future.”


Want to learn about how you can get involved with our Welcome Group Program? Click here: 


*Interview translated by Ahmed Barbour

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