New programs bridge divide

Programs build dialogue, create safe havens for immigrants and refugees

  • IRCOM ambassador Faiza Hargaaya hopes the new programs will build awareness among people not already familiar with newcomer experiences. – Cindy Titus

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) recently announced two new programs to address the differences newcomers face and raise awareness through discussion.

The IRCOM Ambassadors Program, which was launched this spring, works to build dialogue for newcomers to tell their stories to the public through discussions and presentations. Faiza Hargaaya, an IRCOM ambassador, said the program helps “give people an idea of what it’s like being a newcomer [in Canada].”

The Safe Harbor Program, which originated in British Columbia and was launched in Manitoba this past October, works to educate companies and businesses about diversity and inclusion.

Hargaaya is also a Safe Harbor facilitator. She said the program works to train businesses to be more open to newcomers and to create a safe place where newcomers can go if they feel in danger.

“We try to open the doors for inclusion,” she said. “Once [the businesses] complete the training they get a sticker [which lets] people know they will be safe in that building.”

Safe Harbor’s first meeting is set for January.

On Nov. 25, the IRCOM Ambassadors Program held their first discussion called “Give Voice, Open Your Ears,” during which ambassadors shared their stories with the public. Hargaaya was one of the ambassadors to share her stories. She said she thinks the launch had a good affect on those who attended.

“Everyone really responded to what we were saying,” she said.

Muuxi Adam, a newcomer who attended the IRCOM Ambassadors launch, said the stories told were inspiring.

“Most people believe that immigrant and refugee people are helpless ... [that] we came here to take over their jobs. That’s not why we’re here,” he said. “This type of project empowers [newcomers] that no matter where we’re from ... we need to collaborate ... to build and help this country.”

According to Hargaaya, many of the people who attended the event were already aware of newcomer experiences. She said the ambassadors would like to reach out to people who aren’t as familiar with issues faced by newcomers.

“We would like to ... spread the word as wide as we can so we’re not limited to who we’re sharing our stories with,” she said.

Erin Anderson, volunteer and communications co-ordinator at IRCOM, said these programs are important for people to hear different stories about new Canadians and to break the negative stereotype newcomers often face.

“People might be getting the same negative message on newcomers,” she said. “[These programs are] really important for exposing people to different stories and different views on things.”

Adam said the only thing he wishes is that these programs were launched sooner.

“I wish we had something like that before, that’s how much I liked it,” he said.

Published in Volume 64, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 3, 2009)

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