News Local

Learning to see newcomers in a new way

Lori Penner

Have you ever wished you could hear the untold stories in your community?

Several Grade 7 and 8 classes at Parkside School got that opportunity on Oct. 1 when they had a visit from a group of ambassadors from the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM).

The organization operates transitional housing in Winnipeg for newcomers as well as after school programs, and is home to 67 families from countries around the world.

The six member team represented the countries of Pakistan, Ethiopia, Oromia, China and Zimbabwe and were at Parkside School as part of an outreach program that educates youth and adults about immigration and promotes inclusion and awareness.

Their presentation was part of a tour through Altona, Winkler and Morden made possible by a grant from Welcoming Communities Manitoba.

Their focus is building awareness around the realities of being a new Canadian.

Driven by their passion to give newcomers a voice to promote and protect themselves, the group highlights the important role newcomers play in Canadian identity.

They attempt to eliminate stereotypes by sharing personal stories of their own experiences in moving to a new country.

Coordinator Erin Anderson says they do about three tours a year, and they get a lot of positive feedback from kids and adults alike.

"We try to create safe environments where newcomers can share their experiences and give others a chance to connect with them," she says.

"One way to connect is by helping people understand some of the struggles newcomers face."

They do this is through discussion, object lessons and games.

The ambassadors had the students participate in an activity called Scramble for Wealth.

Basically, a bunch of pennies were scattered on the floor, and the students had to pick up as many as they could.

The clincher was that many of them wore mittens, were blindfolded or had their hands tied behind their backs. Others were given a magnet to pick up the pennies, which didn't work.

"We do this exercise to teach people that often when you're new to a country, it's hard to make a living," Anderson says.

"Sometimes you don't know where to go (blindfolded), or you don't have the skills or resources (hands tied) or you do have valuable resources (magnet), but they don't work in your new home."

In the group discussion, students were asked questions which dealt with certain misconceptions about newcomers.

They were asked things like: what level of education do most newcomers have? (Batchelor Degree), what is the top job most immigrants have? (welder) and what country did the majority of newcomers come from last year? (Phillipines).

Students were also taught to listen by telling each other their own stories.

"We live in a multicultural country," says Jing, a group member from China.

"Kids need to be aware of that, and learn more about other cultures to avoid discrimination," she says.

Lori Sawatzky, executive director of south central settlement services couldn't agree more.

"The message this group brings is for all ages, which is why we had them come out," she says.

"It's about being a welcoming community, willing to explore and accept other cultures."

But she says their message isn't just about newcomers.

"It's also about how to show respect and acceptance for other people in general."