RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment Project

Brief Description

The RAJO (Somali word for “hope”) Somali Youth Empowerment project is a multi-agency therapeutic crime prevention and intervention program that provides culturally sensitive services to high-risk Somali-Canadian youth (ages 12-18) and their families in Ottawa (Ontario) and Edmonton (Alberta). The aim of the project is to reduce youth violence, gang involvement, and drug-related activities while also building resilience.

The RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project integrates high-risk youth into schools, meaningful recreation, cultural activities, and employment programs, while promoting healthy family functioning. The program uses multiple intervention strategies to address mental health issue symptoms and alter the trajectory of youth exhibiting mental health issues, criminal activity, gravitation toward gangs, and other anti-social behaviours. Mental health counsellors and trained Somali outreach staff provide positive cultural modelling, encourage membership in Somali and broader community activities, and facilitate positive peer relationships and integration into the community.

The RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project is based on the Trauma Systems Therapy for Refugees (TST-R) model which serves as a culturally appropriate intervention for Somali youth in North America. This four tiered intervention model was adapted to assess and respond to the severe needs of Somali-Canadian youth and their families in Ottawa and Edmonton. This project takes a multifaceted approach to address refugee trauma, poverty and cultural isolation which increase the vulnerability of youth to mental health issues, substance abuse, and related criminal activities.


The main goals of the RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project are to:

  • Stabilize the emotional regulation of Somali-Canadian youth;
  • Regulate the social environment of youth; and
  • Increase the chance for long-term resilience. 


The appropriate clientele for the RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project is high-risk Somali youth ages 12 to 18 residing in Edmonton (Alberta) and Ottawa (Ontario).

Core Components

The overall duration for assessment, treatment planning, engagement, and treatment of the RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project depends on the unique needs of each client, but typical duration is approximately 10 months.

The program components include the following:

  • Tier 1- Community Engagement: Single information sessions are implemented to engage small groups of Somali-Canadians and their families to develop trust between communities and service providers before specific needs are identified. Community engagement starts up to 6 months prior to implementation of services and is ongoing throughout the program:
    • Mental health information is made available and efforts are made to de-stigmatize seeking care through presentations, activities, and seminars designed for youth and parent groups;
    • The outreach counsellor organizes educational forums at community centres, Mosques and private homes in order to engage the community; and
    • Parents and youth are engaged in appropriate educational forums to help them better understand the nature of youth mental health issues and delinquency and be better able to anticipate and deal with those issues. 
  • Tier 2- Skills-Based Groups: Outreach counsellors and clinicians conduct 12 weekly closed-group sessions (1 hour long) for approximately 12-14 weeks on site at identified schools or other locations within the community.
    • The focus is on decreasing acculturative stress and increasing social support factors known to be associated with better mental health among refugee youth;
    • Clinical group leaders identify youth needing mental health services through their observations and interactions with the youth, while focusing on social skills, emotional regulations, symptoms of depression, and signs of aggression; and
    • Youth can also be identified as needing clinical services through Tier 1 or can be referred through a community partner. 
  • Tier 3 & 4- Intensive Individual Therapy: A clinician paired with an outreach counsellor engages in individual and/or home-based family therapy on a weekly basis with youth at schools, agencies, and/or in family homes as appropriate. The intake process and duration of these phases of the project are approximately two months or less for each client and include:
    • Beyond Trauma Treatment, TST-R Safety-Focus Treatment, and/or Individual-based TST-R Services provided by RAJO staff led by clinicians;
    • Youth with significant mental health needs receive community-based, linguistically, and culturally sensitive care; and
    • Identified youth will be referred to regulation focused individual therapy or safety focused home-based therapy for clinical services which include 1 hour sessions with the youth in a home, school, or community setting.

Implementation Information

Some of the critical elements for the implementation of this program or initiative include the following:

  • Organizational requirements: The lead organization (Canadian Friends of Somalia (CFS)) should form a steering committee that will recruit staff and provide training. Key Somali youth leaders and concerned parents should also be invited in focus groups in order to establish a suitable education strategy tailored to the Somali community. The organization must have a wealth of experience working in partnerships with key organizations and services, and have the capacity to hire a project manager, site supervisors, outreach workers, and clinicians for the program. For the current implementations, the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center of Boston’s Children HospitalFootnote1 will assist in job description development and the interview process.
  • Partnerships: Important partners for the RAJO program include agencies that are closely associated with Somali-Canadian families, including schools and family services, as well as organizations that can provide services and referrals for the at-risk participants. For the current implementations, the project partners that will be most closely involved with this initiative include the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center of Boston Children’s Hospital as well as other partners dependent on the location of implementation:
    • Ottawa: Canadian Friends of Somalia (CFS), Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Ottawa Police Service, Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, Somali Centre for Family Services, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services, Health and Resource Agencies;
    • Edmonton: Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton (SCCSE), Edmonton Public School Board, Edmonton Police Service, Catholic Social Services, Alberta Works, Somali Student Associations, and the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation.
  • Training and technical assistance: The Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center of Boston’s Children Hospital will provide initial training to all sites on the TST-R model and provide ongoing support to clinicians. CFS with the help of the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton (SCCSE) will be responsible for all other aspects of staff training.
  • Risk assessment tools: The Child Ecological Check-in should be used to further substantiate participant referrals.
  • Materials & resources: Limited information on this topic.

International Endorsements

The most recognized classification systems of evidence-based crime prevention programs have classified this program or initiative as follows:

  • Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development: Not applicable.
  • Crime Solutions/OJJDP Model Program Guide: Not applicable.
  • SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices: Not applicable.
  • Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy: Not applicable.

Gathering Canadian Knowledge

Canadian Implementation Sites

Public Safety Canada’s National Crime Prevention Strategy provided funding to the Canadian Friends of Somalia in Ottawa (Ontario) and to the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton (Alberta) between 2017 and 2022 to implement the RAJO Somali Youth Empowerment project.

Main Findings from Canadian Outcome Evaluation Studies

As part of Public Safety Canada’s funding, an outcome evaluation study of RAJO was carried out between April 1, 2018 and December 31, 2021 by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. The evaluation methodology included a developmental, mixed methods approach, including qualitative (e.g., interviews/focus groups) and quantitative (e.g., pre- and post-testing) measures. As the RAJO program serves Somali-Canadian youth, specific attention was placed on making sure that evaluation measures, tools, and approaches were culturally and contextually safe and culturally responsive.

Results from this evaluation showed the following:

  • Youth who participated in Tier 2 reported engaging in more volunteering activities (68% pre-program, 85% post-program), receiving more support in various aspects of their lives (ranging from 55% to 68% pre-program and 72% to 78% post-program), having more people in their support network (72% pre-program, 90% post-program), and having increased sense of belonging to their local community (77% pre-program, 92% post-program) and to Canada (74% pre-program, 81% post-program).
  • Youth from Tier 2 also demonstrated higher levels of resilience (mean pre-program Child and Youth Resilience Measure [CYRM] score = 45.1,  mean post-program CYRM score = 48.7), more cognitive defusion (i.e., psychological distance between themselves and their thoughts, beliefs, memories, and self-stories; mean pre-program Cognitive Fusion Questionnaire – Identities [CFQ-I] score = 18.2, mean post-program CFQ-I score = 13.6), and more trust based on composite scores of four trust-related items (mean pre-program score = 2.7, mean post-program score = 2.9).
  • Similar improvements were found for youth in Tiers 3 and 4 of the program, with the addition of a reduction in trauma-related experiences and symptoms following at least six months of RAJO counselling (mean pre Structured Trauma-Related Experiences and Symptoms Screener [STRESS] scores = 23.5, mean post STRESS scores = 10.7) and improved behavioural health (mean pre Global Approach to Individual Needs – Short Screener [GAIN-SS] scores = 40.1, mean post GAIN-SS scores =24.9) 

Cost Information

A cost analysis was conducted for RAJO.  The findings from this analysis have shown the following:

  • From April 1, 2018 to December 31, 2021, the total cost of the program across the four tiers was $4,293,606.69, with the program servicing approximately 2,764 participants.
  • The estimated cost per participant at Tier 1 was $346.51, $11,181.28 at Tier 2, and $13,703.01 at Tiers 3 and 4 of the program.


Social Research and Demonstration Corporation. (2022). RAJO: The Somali Youth and Family Empowerment project – Final evaluation report for the period April 1, 2018 to December 31, 2021 [Unpublished final evaluation report]. Submitted to Public Safety Canada.

For more information on this program, contact:

Canadian Friends of Somalia

Executive Director, Farah Aw-Osman

380 Terminal Ave, Suite 102

Ottawa, Ontario K1G 0Z3

Telephone: (613)878-1960

E-mail: farah@canadianfriendsofsomalia.org

Website: www.canadianfriendsofsomalia.org

Somali-Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton

6770 129 Avenue, #315

Edmonton, Alberta T5C 1V7

Telephone: (780) 441-9878

E-mail: info@somaliedmonton.com

Website:  https://somaliedmonton.com/

Record Entry Date - 2018-04-11
Record Updated On - 2023-01-09
  1. 1

    For more information on the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center of Boson’s Children Hospital, refer to http://www.childrenshospital.org/centers-and-services/refugee-trauma-and-resilience-center-program/

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