Toronto, Canada

Empowering Youth to Empower Parents

Youth Empowering Parents (YEP)

May 30, 2014

Newcomer youth teach newcomer adults English and computer skills

YEP_200x130The instructor went through things too quickly. I couldn’t keep up.”“The computer course was in English. My English is very weak and I cannot understand well.”“I was embarrassed to ask questions in my English class, so I did not learn a lot.” Voices of newcomer adults now in the YEP program.

It’s the most Canadian of stories. In 2010, two young people meet at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop to talk about an idea. Inspired by their own lived experience, they see the potential of youth helping newcomer adults in their community integrate faster, feel more at home, less isolated and more connected. Why not flip the education model on its head? Youth teach adults.

Having identified the problem and and a viable solution, Agazi Afewerki and Mohammed Shafique quickly put their coffee shop talk to work. They skipped the usual planning stages and scouted their Regent Park neighbourhood to recruit youth tutors and adult learners. Ten days later, with 10 youth paired with 10 adults based on their native language, they launched Youth Empowering Parents, better known as YEP (‘yep’ is colloquial English for ‘yes’).

Building community

To Agazi and Mohammad, the idea seemed simple. Train community youth about teaching etiquettes to tutor adults in computer skills and English as a Second Language (ESL) using a simple curriculum and tools that young people could easily master.

When their 12-week pilot project proved successful and their intake doubled, they decided to develop a new curriculum tailor-made for volunteer tutors as young as 12 years old but with enough teaching guidelines to give the youth confidence and ensure learning targets are met. Equally important was promoting youth leadership in the community through training.

“Since our curriculum is already there and guides them on how to teach effectively, we teach the youth about patience, community leadership and doing general needs assessments to identify where the gaps are for adults,” says Agazi. “Instead of just teaching the curriculum, the youth go outside of it and do other things.”

The youth tutors now see themselves in a different light as service providers and not service-recipients.  In a Globe and Mail article, Mohammad commented on how youth have broken “free from their traditional roles as service receivers. YEP is really one of the first programs that actually allows them to be providers of a social program in a meaningful way.” Agazi agrees, “Youth have something to offer and this program enables them to use their skills to give back to the community.”

A  launch pad to learning and a better life

Inspired by the shared experience of many immigrant families, where children help parents integrate into Canadian society, the YEP program is sensitive to newcomer needs. Many immigrant learners do not thrive in traditional classroom settings. They might be too shy to speak out, think their accent is too thick, or their English not good enough to use. Connecting them with youth tutors from the same community, who speak the same language makes the difference. Youth trained to be empathetic, patient tutors can help adults overcome their reluctance to speak up and ask questions and accelerate the learning process.   Many adults gain the confidence they need to enter full time studies or training.

With 90% of YEP’s clientele identified as immigrant women, courses are offered after school hours to enable stay-at-home housewives to participate. The strategy is paying off. Adults report improved quality of life, happiness and independence. And kids can be kids, not having the pressure of playing interpreter or being the leader and decision-maker in the household.

There have also been financial implications. With Skype training, adults can call home anywhere in the world free through computers instead of buying telephone calling cards. Some of the adults who learned Skype said it was the first time they saw family members in 15 years.


Since its beginning, YEP has served over 800 participants with a retention rate of over 80% for both youth and adults. In 2011 YEP received the UNAOC Intercultural Innovation Award in Doha. The program has been recognized as a Vital Idea by the Toronto Community Foundation and designated an Agent of Change by the Centre for Social Innovation.

YEP’s focus now is on scaling up the program. “We’re now working on creating our own organization and growing teams to go out into communities to offer the program. Our pitch to other organizations is to let us use their spaces when they are not being used,” says Agazi.

The program is now running in five locations in Toronto and is being replicated in cities across Canada, starting with Ottawa. Afghanistan and Ethiopia are two other countries on the radar.

This Good Idea will be featured in “Marketplace of Good Ideas” at the 2014 Cities of Migration conference in Berlin. Learn more about the conference.

Making it Work for You:

  • Got a great idea, committed and interested community members? Run with it. Don't wait. Experiment, learn as you go. Structure can come later
  • See youth as the potential leaders and innovators that they are. Harness their energy, skills and enthusiasm.
  • Look into your community for solutions and expertise. Harness expertise and advice from other sectors/communities to help you continue to grow.
  • Build on initial successes, create a solutions-seeking, fluid approach that allows you to change and improve on the go.

For this Good Idea contact:

Agazi Afewerki, Youth Empowering Parents
Toronto, Canada,

Interview with Mohammed Shafique, Founder, Youth Empowering Parents