Ready, set, read!

The Finding Your Voice program helps new Canadians flip through the classics

Coming to a new country and starting a life from scratch with only the clothes on your back is a difficult task, and not one that many of us have had to endure.

The experience can be alienating, and it can be difficult for new immigrants to connect to the community around them.

Thanks to the Finding Your Voice (FYV) program, newcomers have the chance to connect through the power and art of storytelling.

Offered through the Winnipeg Public Library and University of Winnipeg Global College, FYV is an eight-week creative writing program for new Canadians that develops writing and English-language skills through story-making and conversation circles.

According to the WPL website, the course also provides access to publishing resources and the ability to network. The program was started in 2007 by refugee advocate, community activist and writer Janine LeGal.

Last year the group published the inaugural volume of The Past is Another Country: 12 Stories By New Canadians, a collection of stories written by the participants of the FYV program.

Getting words into print is quite costly, inspiring another group of creative writers from the U of W English 3120, Practicum in Literacy, Language and Literacy course to help these newly published authors out.

Kyla Neufeld, a member of 3120, explains how this partnership came about.

“The class (3120) is about experiential learning. Students are put into a practicum. One of the things we have to do is a class action,” says Neufeld, 23. “Our professor, Debbie Schnitzer, is friends with Janine LeGal, who began the program in 2007, and she came to talk to our class about it and other experiences of immigrants, because she works with new immigrants to the city.

“We read The Past is Another Country, and I did a seminar on it for the class. We all felt really close to the program, so when it came time to decide what our class action would be, it was a pretty unanimous decision that we would do a fundraiser for the program.”

The fundraiser that was decided upon by the class is quite a unique event.

“I think it just came from the fact that it’s a book we’re raising money for,” Neufeld says. “We thought, wouldn’t it be great to have something to do with books?”

The idea of a read-a-thon came about during a brainstorming session.

Taking place over 24 hours from 4 p.m. on March 9 to 4 p.m. on March 10, the community has the opportunity to take part in 10-minute slots. Listeners are also welcome, and anyone interested in reading is encouraged to sign up at the website below.

“People can read whatever they want. They can bring their books, or we’ll have books available. In the past, we’ve heard of people dramatically reading the MLA handbook,” Neufeld says. “So really, you can read whatever you want.”

Regarding controversial content, Neufeld says they’ll welcome anything.

“This isn’t really the focus of it, but we do want to draw a little bit of attention to the fact that there are censored books, so if people want to bring a censored book, then they’re totally welcome to.”

The weekend culminates in a concert with Fred Penner, Bog River and friends on Saturday, March 10 at 4 p.m. in the Bulman Centre MPR. Tickets are $10 or pay what you can. Children under 12 are free. Contact Jackie Gudz at 204-612-0201 or [email protected] for tickets or more information.

Published in Volume 66, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 7, 2012)

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