Multicultural Women’s Peer Mentoring Group
AUDIENCE Settlement, social, and health service providers
POPULATION OF INTEREST Immigrant and refugee women
LOCATION Vancouver, BC
THE NEED For immigrant and refugee women especially, the need to offer more social programs that help and encourage them to feel a sense of belonging was acknowledged.
WHAT'S PROMISING The Multicultural Women’s Peer Mentoring Group provides an engaging, welcoming and safe environment that encourages all women to be more actively and positively present in society. The program emphasizes multiculturalism, provides opportunities to improve language skills, allows for community capacity building and assists in establishing peer support networks.
KEY TAKEAWAY By providing an opportunity for newcomers to participate in collective activities this can positively impact their mental health by alleviating certain stressors and barriers to integration and by empowering participants to use their own agency, thoughts and skills to contribute to a new community.
The Multicultural Women’s Peer Mentoring Group
Kwangyoung Conn, Multicultural Settlement and Labour Market Program Worker writes:
The Multicultural Women’s Peer Mentoring Group is one of the community connection programs offered at the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House. The program was developed in 2007 by a Multicultural Settlement and Labour Market Program Worker, Kwangyoung Conn and a group of long-term residents.
There was a growing concern about mental health issues and social isolation; for immigrant and refugee women especially, we acknowledged the need to offer more social programs that help and encourage them to feel a sense of belonging. The program is designed for immigrant women who have unfortunately felt isolated in their community due to language barriers or a lack of welcoming resources that give them the safety and acceptance that they need. Undoubtedly, every woman has her own skills and strengths that should be recognized and utilized. Also, women need to be empowered to explore their thoughts and ideas regardless of their ethnicity or their literacy level. This program creates an engaging and welcoming environment that encourages all women to be more actively and positively present in our society.
The program is based on many components that highlight what Canada is all about. The program emphasizes a practice of multiculturalism, where the women can exchange information about their lives and cultural experiences, as well as make contributions with their own skills and ideas, given their unique cultures, which can be incorporated into group activities. Newcomers are able to make social connections with long-term residents, while also improving their English language skills at the same time, which can help with their settlement in Canada. Our long-term residents are able to find ways of supporting newcomers by gaining an understanding of the challenges and settlement issues that newcomers face upon arrival in Canada. The program helps the women to build a mutual support network and to gain both cultural and educational learning experiences. Furthermore, by collaborating within our various group activities and events, in partnership with various community organizations, women are able to contribute towards building our community capacity. In addition, the group participants are able to build a peer support network by sharing their life experiences, resulting in an exchange of strengths and skills, as well as community resources. Newcomers have shared that they feel confident and supported because of the encouragement and emotional support that they receive through their collaborative work with other women.
Newcomer women are given the opportunity to participate in various program activities, such as:
- Community engagement consultations and event projects: The group has participated in research/consultation projects with different community partners such as post-secondary schools (UBC and Langara College) and local libraries, regarding immigration and refugee policies and support systems. The group participants have an opportunity to share their settlement experiences, in addition to their settlement challenges and issues, which might be taken into consideration when making policy changes to support services for newcomers. The group has also held an annual community event through funding from Neighbourhood Small Grants (please check out our story - http://neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca/ ). The group has been successfully funded each year, and they have hosted numerous events as a result of this funding, mainly addressing multiculturalism, diversity, and environmental issues.
- Guest speakers for learning about Canadian society: The group has invited professionals such as local politicians (like the Vancouver South MP (Harjit Sajjan), a local community policing officer, mental health workers, and public health nurses. The group had meetings with each in separate sessions, and asked questions about important issues affecting their daily lives, as well as shared their concerns. The topics were mainly on marijuana legalization, community safety, and mental health. These events provided newcomers with knowledge and understanding about the Canadian government and social welfare systems, in order for them to fully participate in Canadian society. There were also volunteer trainers from the Canadian Red Cross. The City of Vancouver offered First Aid Training and an earthquake preparation workshop. The group obtained hands-on information and resources to help them to respond to various emergency situations.
- Field trips to local venues: The group has participated in various field trips that have helped the women (especially the newcomers) to learn about local attractions and community resources such as The CBC Radio’s Annual Food Bank and Open House, Science World’s Open House events, local community garden sites, public libraries, etc.
- Group Discussion activities: The group shared their thoughts on important issues in small breakout exercises. This allowed them to learn about the similarities and differences within the group, which helps to minimize misunderstandings around cultural behaviours and practices. It also helps newcomer women to improve their English-speaking skills by sharing and exchanging their own resources and skills-based on their own life experiences, which empowers them to be self-reliant and better able to cope with difficult times.
- Cultural celebration events and activities to promote multiculturalism: The women participated in various group activities to celebrate their own cultures and special holidays such as the lunar New Year, Vasaki, Nowruz, Halloween, etc. This not only helped the women to have a better understanding of diverse cultural and religious practices but also helped to create a safe and welcoming place to live in their community. These events also help newcomers to create a great network and support system that allows them to develop friendships and mutual support
Program activities that take place in a collective environment help newcomer women to connect with other women, to share their life experiences, and to build a positive support network. Newcomer women are able to increase their self-confidence and employability through group participation. They also learn about community resources through interactive discussions and from guest speakers. This helps them to navigate Canadian systems for their settlement. The program provides the participants with a great opportunity to improve their English communication skills, as well as opportunities to engage in community-based events where they are invited to participate in planning and deliberation.