Building strong healthy communities through newcomer civic engagement
By Saud Haseeb, Knowledge Mobilization & Social Action Lead (Placement Student)
The Civic Engagement Workshops for Newcomers are organized by Access Alliance staff, volunteers, and students. This semester, I have had the opportunity to join this small team as a placement student. I have learned a great deal during my time at Access Alliance: about the systemic barriers and biases newcomers face when accessing healthcare services; how newcomer-serving organizations can adapt to better serve their communities and address local needs; and the role that research, knowledge mobilization, and social action plays in this process.
Our latest workshop occurred on Thursday, March 17th. Access Alliance staff, students, volunteers, and newcomers all gathered under one roof at AccessPoint on Danforth to learn about Toronto’s housing crisis and how they can make a difference. Participants learned about important policies like vacancy control, discussed their own housing experiences, and wrote a letter to their local MPP.
This was the third of four sessions for the workshop series. Starting in November last year, the workshops aim to help newcomer clients and community members build the skills, confidence, and opportunities to participate in civic life, with the ultimate goal of contributing to strong and healthy communities. Thus far, participants have had an opportunity to learn about:
- Canada’s democratic process and electoral system;
- Education, healthcare, and housing for newcomers;
- What civic engagement looks like in their communities;
- How they can take action and get involved.
We interviewed one of the workshop’s long-time participants, Shah Golam, for his thoughts:
What have you learned as part of the civic engagement workshop and why is it important to you?
“I have learned about the 3-level of governments, political parties and their functions, democracy, elections and politics in Canada. The newcomers are quite new to this country and they will live here. The government systems are different from back countries, so they need to know about this country policies and rules.
They will become the citizens, voters, candidates, politicians and they will be involved with strategic decision-making plans and policies in different level of governments and community activities.”
Civic Engagement and Newcomers
Civic engagement involves any activity where individuals or groups work to address issues of public concern and improve the quality of life in their own communities. Civic engagement is particularly impactful for newcomers; it can serve as a way to learn about Canada’s democratic systems and help build communities of support and empowerment. Access Alliance’s previous research has documented how newcomers may feel isolated upon arriving in Canada, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting involved in local initiatives may help newcomers alleviate this isolation and build their confidence and skills along the way.
How are you involved and active in your community and how has it benefitted you?
“I am already involved with community engagement activities and participating in consultation processes, town hall and deputation meetings to raise the local issues such as food security, affordable housing, child and health care, livable jobs and incomes, and climate actions programs.
I am being benefitted by gaining skills, knowledge, experiences, networking and developing leadership capacities through these programs.”
Access Alliance offers this type of programming to clients. Our programs for seniors, youth, and LGBTQ+ newcomers, and group activities like Hijabs & Helmets, a cycling program for Muslim women and their allies, are just some examples of programs that help newcomers build skills and confidence in civic engagement while finding a supportive and empowering community.
Learning from our Clients
This semester, I have had the opportunity to sit beside our newcomer clients and hear their stories of arriving in a new country and trying to find a community. I have heard about the various barriers that they have faced when getting involved in civic life and taking action on issues that are important to them.
Perhaps most importantly, I have had a chance to witness the resilience that our newcomer clients display, and the enthusiasm they have for finding community, mobilizing around issues that are important to them, and building a better Canada for their families, children, and neighbours. It is my hope that the civic engagement workshop builds on this enthusiasm and provides participants with the skills and resources they need to create meaningful change in their communities.
To learn more about the Civic Engagement Workshop series, please contact Miranda Saroli at email@example.com.