Somali Canadian Youth Activist Appointed to Prime Minister’s Youth Advisory Council

oronto-based Somali Canadian youth activist Habon Ali was appointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Youth Advisory Council in June.

Muslim Link interviewed Habon about her activism and what challenges facing youth in Canada that she hopes to raise with the Prime Minister.

Tell us about yourself

I am currently a fourth student of the University of Toronto at Mississauga pursuing a degree in Biology and Environmental Sciences. I am an individual who loves community organization, health advocacy, accessibility and technology. I come from a large family. I have three brothers and three sisters!

I am a first generation Somali Canadian born and raised in Rexdale, Toronto. My parents both came as refugees in the 90s fleeing the Somali civil war. This has led me to be interested in issues that affect first generation youth and their access to education.
Accessibility has been on the forefront of my mind for a while. From a young age I was exposed to the many minority families supporting children with disabilities This experience was challenging and eye-opening to me. I quickly realized the health barriers that many families in my community faced. I gained an immense amount of knowledge on disabilities, accessibilities and barriers during this time, I continue to learn to this day.

I had a chance to become a volunteer a Silver Creek preschool which is a school for children with specials needs living with physical disabilities, developmental delays, communication disorders, language delays and various other needs. Through this experience I found a lifelong interest in pursuing awareness on various disabilities. I was lucky enough to get my first job at the age of fifteen at Corbrook, an adult day centre for individuals with disabilities. This came at a time in which I knew little to nothing about genetics, disabilities and accessibility. This experience not only gave me the consciousness about these issues but sparked an interest in the sciences and community advocacy. I still volunteer with Silver Creek to this day.

Tell us about your work with Youth Health Action Network

For the past three years I have had the privilege to be a youth advocate alongside many team members at the Youth Health Action Network. The Youth Health Action Network is a youth led leadership initiative that is under Toronto Public Health. Our main focus is to tackle youth health issues, mainly tobacco, through community outreach events, research and advocacy on a municipal level. This experience has allowed me to reach out and work with not only my community but many other diverse communities throughout Toronto.

Tell us about your work with The Mosaic Institute

The Mosaic institute is an organization that focuses on diverse communities and creates a space which allows for social change and dialogue. The past school year I was awarded a fellowship with the Mosaic Institute. In this fellowship, I worked with seventeen university students from all across Canada to launch a national social action plan to showcase how our differences are solutions.

You are newly appointed to the Prime Minister’s Youth Advisory Council. Tell us about the council and its work.

This past June, I was selected to be a member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council. Along with twenty other young Canadians, I am responsible for providing important, non-partisan advice to the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada on issues like mental health, reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, diversity, innovation, and economic growth. We are also in the process of developing Canada’s first-ever youth policy.

What do you hope to achieve during your time on the council?

I have seen the effects of policy in my life first hand and how it can lead to unequal outcomes for different groups of people. As a young black Muslim female, it is important to be at the table sharing my lived experiences and perspective. This is the force behind my drive for community engagement. Often times, if you’re not at the table your struggles can be ignored, even if it’s not intentionally done. That never sat well with me. I hope to represent the youth in my communities to the best of my abilities, while learning from the people around me.
To be quite honest, the youth serving in the council are exceptional people who all come from diverse lived experiences and have a story to share. Their passion and commitment to having that story heard and advocating for change is truly inspiring. I also hope to gain better insight on policy making at the federal level.

Why advise would you give to other Muslim students who aspire to be involved in shaping policies that impact youth?

My advice for Muslim students who aspire to be involved in shaping policies that affect youth is by starting to look for opportunities within their communities.

The Youth Health Action Network was instrumental in guiding me through policy making at the municipal level, my time with YHAN has been invaluable and is something I will treasure forever. By starting at a community level and engaging in issues we are truly passionate about, we can change policy outcomes.