The LEVEL community is made up of some great young adults, and this blog profile features one such individual: Aida Mwanzia. Aida is one of the participants of the first LEVEL Youth Policy Program, alongside 15 other Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee young adults. Over the course of six months, Aida and her peers will work on learning and developing more about the BC public policy process, and ultimately each work towards developing their own public policy paper.

Aida is driven by her mission to connect and empower youth through transformative educational programs. With roots in Kenya, her curiosity and love for travel led her to arrive on Coast Salish territories in Vancouver, Canada nearly seven years ago. Aida has been working with migrant youth to reclaim, reframe, and re-imagine the narratives about our communities in order to effect meaningful and long-lasting social change.

Aida graduated from UBC with an Honours degree in Sociology and is currently working as the Coordinator of Global Initiatives & Youth Engagement at the YMCA where she facilitates the travel of 1600 youth across Canada every year through reciprocal exchange programs. Through her involvement with Check Your Head: The Youth Global Education Network, the SFU Centre for Dialogue and other organizations, Aida delivers workshops on topics to advance equity in Canada from an intersectional lens.

Tell us about yourself and what brought you to the Youth Policy Program.

I am a daughter, sister, partner, friend, a newcomer to Canada and a young woman who strongly believes that all youth should be able to learn about their communities and their history with dignity and respect through public education systems. I was born and raised in Kenya, and come from the Kamba tribe on both sides of my family.

I learned about the Youth Policy Program initially through Abeer, who had recently started working for the Vancouver Foundation and for the LEVEL Initiative in 2018. I thought that it sounded like a phenomenal program, and was impressed that the program was specifically created for Indigenous and migrant youth. I was excited that the program would create opportunities for reconciliation through the promotion of friendship and collaboration between Indigenous and migrant youth.

What specifically spoke to me about this program was that it felt like an invitation to the decision-making table. I have often been called upon for consultation, as have many folks in migrant communities. While consultation is very important, it was new to see an opportunity where people wanted to invest in people like me to have the tools to shape and create policy in order to improve conditions for our communities. I saw this as an opportunity to create meaningful change in education for migrants and Indigenous youth.

As a young person, why are you interested in public policy?

I’m interested in public policy because I believe that when a wide range of people with different identities and backgrounds are involved in creating and shaping policy, policy ends up serving more people. Currently, I don’t see too many people that I can identify with who are shaping policy in BC, which is a sign that my voice will bring an important lens to the table. Campaigns like #LOSTVOTESYVR led by Fresh Voices have inspired me with their successes and impact in advocating for voting rights for Permanent Residents in BC.

What issue(s) do you want to see systemic change in?

There are a few issues that I’m passionate about, which are mainly guided by my strong belief in strengthening the public education system up until the post-secondary level, and making it accessible and useful for everyone.

  • I believe that the BC International Education Strategy should include a plan for connecting new migrants to Indigenous peoples, knowledge and history.
  • I want the BC International Education Strategy to also recognize the need for international students and newcomers to feel represented in curriculum both in the K-12 system and in post-secondary institutions. It is important that representation in the curriculum goes beyond narratives of trauma, colonization or slavery to include stories of strength, resilience and innovation.
  • I want international students to have access to affordable education in British Columbia and in Canada. I want to amplify and advocate for a 2% cap for international student tuition to be implemented at the provincial level.

Why does it matter to have young people’s (especially those who are Indigenous and racialized migrant and refugee folks) voices at the table?

In order to disrupt the pattern of decisions being made for us, and discussions being conducted about us, having us at the table enables us to make decisions with others that are informed by the voices of our communities. It is also incredibly important for young people to see themselves represented at the table, because it shows them what’s possible for them to achieve. Lastly, our communities have been incredibly resilient over the past few hundred years (we’re still here!), and in these times when there is a lot of change taking place, we need to learn from the resilience and resurgence of racialized migrant, refugee and indigenous communities.

Why does racial equity matter?

Racial equity matters because people navigate the world differently due to their various intersecting identities. Society has been able to recognize why equity is so important when it comes to gender issues, and it is equally important when it comes to race. Leveling the playing field allows for institutions, policies, physical spaces, education, health care and other public goods to reflect and serve populations who have been expected to adjust to systems that weren’t built for them for far too long. Racial equity matters because it contributes to liberation for everyone, because when more people are able thrive, we all benefit!