“We help them (newcomer youth) to face their fears, build their strength and develop their sense of belonging. Taekwondo is a universal sport that welcomes people from all around the world. It teaches discipline, physical fitness and that everyone deserves to be welcomed. That everyone belongs.”
When he was 13 years old, Marcelo König Sarkis remembers seeing a group of young people in Taekwondo uniforms running through the neighborhood where he grew up in Leamington, ON. “I thought to myself, this is something I want to be a part of,” says Marcelo. “I ran after them and enrolled in the program that very day.”
That was in the late 70s. Today, in addition to being a member of the Board of the New Canadians Centre, Marcelo is a volunteer instructor at Blue Wave Taekwondo in Peterborough, a not for profit organization specialising in teaching the martial art. He says he enjoys helping young people discover the self-confidence, discipline, and sense of belonging he experienced through martial arts so many years ago.
Two of Marcelo’s students are newcomers Bayan Eshhadeh and Alaa Eshhadeh. Both Grade 5 students at Highland Heights and Keith Wightman schools in Peterborough, the girls who are originally from Syria have been in Canada for just three and a half years. Dedicated, committed and competitive, Bayan and Alaa recently captured first, second and two third places at the World Master Taekwondo games. “I feel good when I’m competing,” says Bayan. “I feel strong.” Alaa agrees. “It’s really fun to be a part of the club. They are like my family.”
Bayan and Alaa were introduced to taekwondo through a partnership between Blue Wave Taekwondo and the New Canadians Centre that offered a month of free introductory classes in the martial art in January 2019. They joined the club after. Following the success of the introductory classes, Blue Wave Taekwondo become a partner of the New Canadians Centre’s Peterborough Welcome Pass Program designed to help newcomers connect with the local community.
In addition to their recent competitive success, Bayan and Alaa have participated in Breaking through Barriers, an event that focuses on breaking through the things that make kids feel anxious, afraid, and alone. “These are challenges so many youth face. We help them to face their fears, build their strength and develop their sense of belonging. Taekwondo is a universal sport that welcomes people from all around the world,” Marcelo explains. “It teaches discipline, physical fitness and that everyone deserves to be welcomed. That everyone belongs.”
Committed to sharing the martial art with newcomers, Blue Wave Taekwondo continues to seek out opportunities to engage newcomer youth. Earlier this month, they were guest facilitators at the Youth After School Club where 20+ newcomer youth were introduced to the basics of the martial art.
This story is part of the New Canadians Centre’s #WeBelong Campaign – Celebrating 40 Years of Inspiring and Encouraging Newcomers.
The #WeBelong Campaign shares powerful stories of Belonging, Home, Hope, and Community from our 40 Years. Follow along with the stories and opportunities on our page: www.nccpeterborough.ca/webelong