Recipe For Success: How Community Support Are Helping Bintou And Aicha Cherif Pursue Their Dreams

“He used ketchup instead of tomato paste!”

Bintou Cherif remembers the time her brother improvised while cooking their favourite dish, Jollof.

Sharing good food with people is important to Bintou and her sister Aicha.

 Aicha Cherif and her sister Bintou engage in life-enriching programs at the New Canadians Centre

Aicha Cherif and her sister Bintou engage in life-enriching programs at the New Canadians Centre

Growing up in a refugee settlement in the Ivory Coast of Africa, they learned to cook Jollof—a rice dish made with peppers, onions, and tomato paste—over an open fire.

Living close to the ocean and spending most of their days outdoors, they had access to fish, which they would add to the one-pot meal.

“It didn’t taste very good,” Bintou smiles, as she recalls her brother’s experiment.

Bintou is speaking to the crowd of people filling the St. James United Church auditorium for a community dinner. Having completed the Food Handling Course, Bintou and Aicha have been busy volunteering in the kitchen prepping and cooking for the community meal.

“I really hope you enjoy the meal—and don’t worry, we used tomato paste, not ketchup,” she says laughing wholeheartedly, and the community gathered in the gym, along with her.

 Bintou Cherif, pictured with NCC Settlement Worker in Schools Coordinator Jess Devlin, and Aicha Cherif attend the ESL program at Thomas A. Stewart

Bintou Cherif, pictured with NCC Settlement Worker in Schools Coordinator Jess Devlin, and Aicha Cherif attend the ESL program at Thomas A. Stewart

A few weeks after the dinner, Bintou and Aicha look forward to the public reception and sharing their photographs at the Newcomer Youth Photography Project exhibit of the SPARK Photography Festival.

How is it possible for Bintou to share her story with such confidence when just eighteen months ago she spoke very little English?

How is it possible to grow up without running water, electricity or any modern conveniences and learn what it takes to prep and cook a meal for more than 100 people?

“It’s our job at the New Canadians Centre to provide our clients with the tools they need to be successful,” explains Jessica Devlin, Settlement Workers in School (SWIS) Coordinator.

“It’s up to them what they do with these opportunities. I’ve seen the changes in Bintou and Aicha since they arrived in Canada less than two years ago. They participate in several programs and are often the first to volunteer for every activity. Their confidence is building and so is their capacity to achieve success. They’ve been given a chance, and they’re running with it.”

Participating in life-enriching programs like the Food Handling Course and the Newcomer Youth Photography Project, Bintou and Aicha are building skills and confidence so they can secure summer employment and feel confident about their abilities.  

Due to the support they’ve received from our community, they have the opportunity to express themselves in ways that are meaningful and positive.

  Bintou Cherif (l) with sister Aicha in front of the "Be Alive in Peterborough" community mural

 Bintou Cherif (l) with sister Aicha in front of the "Be Alive in Peterborough" community mural

Knowing they have the skills to achieve success, Bintou and Aicha build capacity for higher learning and are empowered to pursue their dreams of becoming a lawyer and a doctor.

The friendships they have made by participating in outreach activities are invaluable as they continue to grow and develop a sense of belonging to the community they now call home.

Eager to give back to a community that’s supported and welcomed them, Bintou and Aicha are often the first to take advantage of volunteer opportunities at the New Canadians Centre. “We like volunteering because it’s fun and we get to meet new people.”

The New Canadians Centre welcomed more than 800 clients from 79 different countries from around the world last year. That number has increased by more than 38% since 2016.

Learn more about Bintou and Aicha's story in this video...

—guest post by Carol Lawless

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