The Shoe Project -- a unique program model for immigrant and refugee women to improve their language and communication skills. By Cordelia Tang, Managing Director, The Shoe Project, Toronto


AUDIENCE    Settlement, social and health service providers, art groups, organizations promoting community art

POPULATION OF INTEREST   Immigrant and refugee women


THE NEED    As we see the influx of immigrants and refugees in the past decade and expect more to come due to war, political turmoil, global warming, more support will be required for the growing population of newcomer women in Canada.

Newcomers have to overcome huge language and cultural barriers to get back on their feet in Canada. It is even more so for female immigrants and refugees. The 2016 census data shows that immigrant women have higher educational attainment compared to the overall women population. However, employment rates for new immigrant women are well below the rate of Canadian-born women throughout the 2001-2019 period.

The pandemic has exacerbated this situation. Recent lockdown and recovery data show that female recent immigrants had lower re-employment rates because they tend to hold lower-wage, shorter tenured jobs and work in accommodation and food services – two areas most affected by the pandemic.

Another issue in need of attention is social isolation. For newcomer women, their social isolation due to language barriers and disruption of community and settlement services during the pandemic were layered on the lack of a personal network of family and friends. This created a unique situation to address.

Based on these factors, The Shoe Project is an innovative intervention to improve the communication and employability skills of immigrant and refugee women.

WHAT'S PROMISING   The Shoe Project (TSP) program provides a unique workshop model that focuses on mentorship and peer support. The program creates long-term impact on newcomer women participants’ lives and careers. Our 2020 Outcomes Study Report shows that:

  • 100% of participants of the survey found a network through TSP to integrate into Canadian society;
  • 100% reported and demonstrated an improvement in language skills;
  • 1 out of 2 found real jobs or other opportunities through this network;
  • 94% gained or regained confidence after participation;
  • 68% found real friends after participation.

KEY TAKEAWAY   Apart from supporting newcomer women’s employability, The Shoe Project also provides a national platform for newcomer women’s voices to be heard in the media and by the public. We are looking to collaborate with community and settlement organizations to extend the program to more communities.

The Shoe Project -- a unique program model for immigrant and refugee women to improve their language and communication skills.



Presentation clip from the Vancouver performance on March 6, 2022:


The Shoe Project is a registered charity providing writing and public speaking workshops for immigrant and refugee women to improve their language and communication skills. Founded in 2011 by novelist Katherine Govier, it now has facilitated programs in Toronto, Windsor, Brampton, Halifax, Winnipeg, Canmore, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.

A typical Shoe Project program has three components:

  • 10-week writing session where a published Canadian writer meets with 12 participants weekly for 2.5 hours. By the end of the session, each participant will finish crafting a 600-word memoir about their journeys to, and interaction in Canada, through the focus of a pair of shoes.
  • 4-5 hourly one-on-one coaching sessions where each participant works with a theatre professional to improve English fluency and presentation skills
  • Public performance at a theatre venue where the general public listen to the stories and get inspired

In the past 11 years, we have worked with over 250 newcomer women originally coming from 60 countries and regions. We have published over 350 immigration stories in our digital repository.

It is also The Shoe Project’s mission to host performances of the immigration stories for the public to have a better understanding of the challenges newcomer communities have to face. In the past 11 years, the stories have inspired thousands of audience members, both in-person and online.    

Visit The Shoe Project’s website for more information, or contact info@theshoeproject.online for inquiries.


- Have a good or promising practice you’d like to share with other providers on how you are supporting the mental health or influencing the social determinants of mental health for immigrants and refugees? Then contact us at irmhproject@camh.ca

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