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Burnaby youth settlement worker wins BC community safety award

MOSAIC youth case manager Mssko Wakil awarded Youth Leadership Award for work with newcomer and refugee youth
Mssko Wakil Award WEB
MOSAIC youth case manager Mssko Wakil accepts the Youth Leadership Award during this year's B.C. Community Safety and Crime Prevention Awards.

A case manager at a Burnaby-based youth settlement program has earned a provincial community safety and crime prevention award.

Mssko Wakil is coordinator of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) Youth Branch in B.C. and a youth case manager with MOSAIC, one of Canada’s largest non-profit settlement organizations.

She was recognized this month by B.C.’s Community Safety and Crime Prevention Branch with a youth leadership award for her work with vulnerable newcomer youth.

“Through leadership training and promoting volunteerism, Wakil supports youth to engage in the community and become leaders, inspiring them to have a positive impact,” stated a backgrounder on the award. “She plays a vital role in providing them with a bright future in their new country.”

When it comes to the challenges young newcomers and refugees face when they come to Canada, Wakil knows what she’s talking about firsthand.

Her family fled to Kyrgyzstan when the Taliban rose to power in her native Afghanistan.

Then she came to Canada at the end of 2014 as a refugee from the Kyrgyz Republic.

She said her passion for youth leadership was sparked when she was still a MOSAIC client just learning English.

She remembers commiserating with fellow newcomers about the challenges and pitfalls of adjusting to a new country with unfamiliar laws and customs.

She says she heard stories from fellow clients, youth at risk, about running afoul of Canadian laws and customs.

Because she had graduated from law school in Kyrgyzstan and was a little more aware of the law, she says she was able to help out with advice.

“My leadership started over there,” she says.

So, almost as soon as she got a job as a case manager at MOSAIC’s youth program in Burnaby, Wakil says she got to work on a number of programs and projects, including a girls club and youth leaders team.

Through the team, newcomer youth are encouraged to become leaders and advocates in their communities, gaining confidence and learning skills like public speaking, event organizing, negotiation skills, group facilitation and a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities within Canadian law.

Wakil says her aim is to get the youth engaged in their new country to combat feelings of isolation.

“I knew the challenge, and I knew where to start to make those youth successful,” she says. “Canada gives them this opportunity to become advocates in their community, to prevent other youth from doing bad things and violating the law or being involved in gangs.”

The award presentation notes many of the youth in Wakil’s group were helped to get back to school, gain access to colleges and universities and find employment.

It’s fitting then, that it was one of her youth leaders who encouraged Wakil to apply to UBC’s law school.

Wakil, who holds a Bachelor of Laws from the Kyrgyz State Academy of Law, thought she’d have to start all over again in Canada, but persistent prompting from one of her youth leaders who attends UBC, led to Wakil discovering the university’s National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) program last year.

And Wakil is now studying at the Peter A. Allard School of Law and working toward her requirements for practising law in Canada.  

“I would never believe that one day I will go to law school in Canada,” she says.

Wakil speaks seven languages and has recently been hired for a six-month contract with the MOSAIC legal advocacy program for Afghan family reunification.

As a MOSAIC youth case manager she works with at-risk newcomer and refugee youth between the ages of 15 and 28.

B.C.’s Community Safety and Crime Prevention Awards are handed out every year during Crime Prevention Week in the first week of November.

The Youth Leadership Award recognizes those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to working with youth in their communities.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor