Apr 22 2014

blog_Poverty_solutions_April2014By James Hughes, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

There are a number of important fences to be jumped in order to successfully reduce poverty in Canada. One reason for that is that poverty is so multifaceted. But, like the legendary Canadian show jumper Big Ben – who overcame significant challenges to become a champion – the network of advocates working tirelessly to eradicate poverty in this country is learning – and demonstrating – that victory is possible.

There are so many routes in and out of poverty that it is genuinely difficult for policy makers to agree on those decisions that can fundamentally change the landscape for low income people. Because there is uncertainty that big and bold initiatives will actually work to reduce poverty, small and meek adjustments to existing, often unproven, programs are too often preferred.

Acknowledging the multifaceted nature of poverty is in fact the first key to addressing it. It is a scourge that must be taken on in a multi-dimensional way. It is for this reason that the provinces that have adopted wide ranging poverty reduction plans are taking the lead in bringing the poverty numbers down.

Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank had this to say about its finding on child poverty statistics: “The results overall show that, in regards to child poverty, provinces that had implemented poverty reduction strategies with targets and timelines appear to have made a substantial impact in reducing child poverty from 2006 to 2011.”

As surprising as it may sound to some, there is a great deal of science to draw from in figuring out how to reduce poverty. The evidence is showing that those poverty reduction plans which are evidence-based in all their facets have better chances of success, in the long term, than those without such an orientation. Thus, poverty reduction planners who want to include an early learning component should have a look at the Report by Fortin, Godbout and St-Cerny on the Quebec model. If instead, their minds are more focused on poverty and seniors, they should read Poverty among Senior Citizens: A Canadian Success Story. As these resources illustrate, evidence is usually available to support innovative approaches to reducing poverty however they typically have to be mastered and adapted for local conditions.

Poverty is not too hard to solve provided a wide ranging and evidence based approach is taken.


Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

Apr 11 2014


Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, speaks at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report
on how recruitment practices exploit temporary foreign workers. Fay Faraday, the report’s author, looks on.


Alma, a live-in caregiver from the Philippines, paid $4,000 as recruitment fees to come to Canada. She also bought her airplane ticket costing more than $1,000 despite the Live-in Caregiver Program mandating that the employer should pay for it.

As the money Alma paid to the recruiter was more than three years’ earnings in the Philippines, Alma borrowed it at an exorbitant rate of interest. Given the minimum wage she earns here in Toronto, it would take at least three years to pay back the debt.

Alma should consider herself lucky. “Some others had to pay as much as $12,000 in fees,” says Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, who, like Alma, did not disclose her surname for fear of repercussions.

Johnna was present at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report on Profiting from the Precarious: How Recruitment Practices Exploit Migrant Workers on April 8, 2014 to talk of the travails of live-in caregivers like her with fellow panellists from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

In 2012, there were more than 338,000 temporary foreign workers living in Canada. Their numbers more than doubled from 2006 to 2012, and they now equal the population of Greater Victoria in B.C. In Toronto alone, the number skyrocketed by 237% in the same period, from 27,083 to 64,284. To feed this demand, an industry of recruiters has emerged to match workers with jobs.

“Recruitment is where it all starts. It is the point ripe for exploitation and least examined,” says Fay Faraday, the Metcalf report’s author. “And abuse continues to resonate throughout a worker’s labour migration cycle.”

The report draws on in-depth interviews with workers in the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario, and community organizers in Canada and abroad.

Proactive regulations needed

After analysing the existing legal model to protect workers against recruitment abuse when they arrive here in Canada, Faraday is of the opinion that Ontario’s complaint-based laws fail to provide effective protection or enforce their rights.

As the Ontario government has recently introduced two bills, one that addresses worker recruitment  and the other for protecting low-wage temporary foreign workers, there is both urgency and opportunity to examine legal models that could provide effective, meaningful and accessible safeguards.

Faraday hopes her findings along with recommendations can help close the vast and disturbing gap between the current law’s promise of protection and the reality of ongoing exploitation.

Both internationally and within Canada, models for regulating recruitment of temporary foreign workers have been moving away from individual complaint-driven laws like Ontario’s.

“The Ontario model is out of step with the best practices in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. It is failing to get any meaningful protection for the low-wage migrant population,” says Faraday. “It is crucial for the province to move beyond shop-worn phrases that blame ‘unscrupulous recruiters’ and ‘exorbitant fees’ and address these systemic issues now.”

She says Ontario must move towards regulatory regimes like the other provinces that include licensing of recruiters, mandatory registration of employers who hire temporary foreign workers, financial security deposits to compensate workers who have been charged illegal fees and proactive investigation, audits and enforcement by labour protection officials.


Apr 02 2014


Every time we post on social media, take a digital picture or buy something online, data is generated. On the digital highway of bits and bytes, these everyday transactions merge with those coming from sensors gathering climate information and the GPS tracking function of your mobile phone.

Together, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day – that’s roughly equivalent to over half a billion HD movie downloads. For more perspective on the enormity of this data: 90% of all data created so far has been created in the last two years alone.

Surrounded by the high noise and low signal created by Big Data, how do we wade through it all to determine which issues need exploring and chart a course for change?

Wouldn’t it be nice to get off the digital highway for a while and take a ride along a railway of ideas in the very spirit of the iron rails that tied Canada together?

For now, we will take the spur line. But unlike the railway branch lines, the Spur national festival of politics, art and ideas will be passing through Canada’s main cities for the second year running.

Starting on April 3, the week-long festival will bravely attempt to cut through the clutter created by Big Data in Toronto after doing the same in Winnipeg. Later it will move on to Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver.

“The common thread is the value of a long form conversation,” said Helen Walsh, publisher of the Literary Review of Canada, which co-produces the festival along with Diaspora Dialogues. “We are not afraid to ask big questions of our speakers and audiences.”

‘Live magazine’

Rather than being envisioned as a series of lectures, the festival has been conceptualized as a “live-issue” of a magazine. This year, the consistent theme of Signal versus Noise will be explored via a weekend of debates, conversations, books readings, walking tours, literary cabaret, and more.

The question of who owns our secrets will be addressed at the opening event hosted by CBC Radio’s Brent Bambury. He will moderate a discussion with former Assistant Director of CSIS Ray Boisvert along with Dr. Michael Geist, Dr. David Lyon and Micheal Vonn.

Dubbed the Nudge Unit, the session on how big data is being used to create and shift policy will look at manipulation of cognitive biases to shape public opinion. Bloomberg View’s Christopher Flavelle will explore the topic with the Mowat Centre’s Jennifer Gold and Rotman School of Management’s Dilip Soman.

For the benefit of news junkies, internationally renowned photojournalists Rita Leistner and Mike Kamber will join Newsweek photo editor Jamie Wellford to discuss the practice and problems of taking photographs in war zones.

If you prefer the smell of money, Vice President at TD Wealth Management Kim Parlee will moderate the discussion on Indicate This! Big Data and the Resilient Economy. She’ll be chatting with Corporate Knights’ Sean Flannery and Kyle Balkisson, about which areas of the economy that society must focus on and what needs to be ignored.

As it travels across the country, the festival will also be looking at how each of the five major cities will look like in seven years. In the case of Toronto, experts Leigh Gallagher and Brigitte Shim will be making a case for laneways as the key to its next phase of urban development. Shawn Micallef will moderate the session.

These are just a handful of glimpses on what to expect at the Toronto festival. As Walsh puts it, “it is a starting point for Canadians to talk to each other.” For more big answers, get a pass for only $150 and check out the event listings to distinguish the signal from the noise. All aboard!

Mar 26 2014


In Toronto’s most recent municipal elections, fewer than 30% of voters turned out at polling stations in some neighbourhoods. When so few people vote, the legitimacy of the election is undermined. It demonstrates that thousands of Torontonians are not engaged in choosing the leaders who make decisions and deliver services that affect their everyday lives.

But how can we increase voter turnout for this year’s municipal election in Toronto, particularly in areas where it has been lagging?

On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Maytree’s Get Out the Vote conference will bring together community leaders and activists to learn about how to mobilize voters who have been disengaged to this point.

Identifying and deploying strategies that reverse the trend of low voter turnout is important to a city’s democratic health and prosperity – and it is integral to Maytree’s civic and political engagement work.

The conference will support non-partisan efforts to increase voter turnout in diverse, low-income communities. It will help participants understand the system and its challenges and showcase good ideas that work. Participants will also learn about the skills and tools needed for canvassing and getting people to vote.

Conference speakers will inform and inspire

We have assembled leaders drawn from the frontlines of campaigns and organizations that promote democratic participation. Speakers from Samara, Ryerson University, ACORN-Canada, the Broadbent Institute, CityVote and RaBIT (Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto), among others, will share experiences and research insights on electoral participation and proven strategies for voter mobilization.

Samara’s Alison Loat will address the question why people don’t vote with examples they’ve found through their Democracy Talks discussion series. Myer Siemiatycki, professor at Ryerson University, will take a look at the 2010 municipal election data to highlight who didn’t vote. Other sessions will focus on changing the voting system itself and provide some hands-on examples on how to plan for election day and to get out the vote.

Our special guest will be Janet Hernandez of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, NCLR has been working to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans since 1968. Janet is sure to inspire with the story of La Raza’s success in mobilizing the Latino vote in recent U.S. elections and will share strategies from its latest campaign, Vote 2014.

Interested in learning more about how to mobilize the vote? We will post the discussions and presentations on the Maytree site after the conference.

(Note: This post was updated on March 28, 2014 to clarify that we looked at low voter turnout in the last three municipal elections.)

Mar 21 2014


On March 21, 1960, South African police opened fire on black protesters who had surrounded a police station in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. The protest was over the ruling regime’s pass laws, which required blacks to carry passbooks with them any time they traveled out of their designated home areas.

The shooting sparked protests and riots and was a turning point in the history of apartheid. It also brought international condemnation on South Africa. In 1966, the United Nation proclaimed March 21 as “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” and has been urging member states to organize events during the “Action Week against Racism.”

Cities across the world, from Auckland to Montréal, will be marking the week through various programs like the “I am Aotearoa New Zealand … te ranga tahi, together we grow.” For many cities in Europe and other parts of the world, campaigns against racism and xenophobia are year-round efforts.

Dublin’s publicity campaign, Transport Links, Racism Divides, runs across the city’s buses, trams, trains and taxis. It was launched after reports emerged of racial abuse of the Irish city’s transport workers.

Similarly, the city of Edmonton decided to challenge the often polite Canadian conversation on multiculturalism and the idea that racism is no longer a problem in the  community. Edmonton was among the first cities in the country to join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CCMARD).

To create a welcoming and inclusive city, the Belgian city of Ghent has also been doing exceptional work. Ghent’s Day against Racism campaign, a ten-point action plan to eliminate racism and discrimination, includes an innovative Youth Ambassador project led by young immigrants eager to promote an open society and motivate others with their success stories.

In classrooms across Germany and Spain, the All Kids Are VIPs program challenges children to think up ideas for promoting equality and a discrimination-free environment. And it rewards them with visits from their heroes – football stars, music icons and movie stars.

Interested in doing your part in fighting racism? The UNESCO-sponsored Ten-Point Plan of Action for the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism (PDF) is a good starting point to understand what can be done.

Mar 19 2014


Living in Canada transforms the way we see the world, said John Monahan,
executive director of the Mosaic Institute. Photo: Ranjit Bhaskar

Canada does not “import” violent conflict despite some in its diasporic communities remaining invested in overseas conflicts, says a new study by the Mosaic Institute. But these conflicts still have a large and lingering effect on the lives of many Canadians.

“We do import trauma,” said Rima Berns-McGown, research director for the institute’s study The Perception & Reality of “Imported Conflict” in Canada. “That trauma is a heavy burden and can transcend generations. How we treat it will have a major impact on our social cohesion. If left untreated, trauma can impede integration and negatively affect [immigrants’] attachment to Canada.”

Presenting the study at a conference in Toronto on March 17, Dr. Berns-McGown said while Canada does a good job at inclusion, it does a “terrible job in helping those with trauma.”

The study was funded as part of the federal government’s Kanishka Project to research pressing questions for Canada on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

It examined both Canadians’ perceptions and lived experience of “imported conflict” by surveying almost 4,500 people and holding interviews and focus groups with 300 Canadians with family connections to conflict zones.

‘The mosaic is working’

While for many the effects of conflict do not diminish after coming to Canada, their attitudes and perception of traditional adversaries change along with their views on possible solutions. “It shows us that living in Canada transforms the way we see the world. The mosaic is working reasonably well,” said John Monahan, executive director of the institute.

The single most powerful factor in Canada’s ability to reframe immigrants’ understanding of conflicts is social, economic and political inclusion, said Dr. Berns-McGown. While the study found that 57% of Canadians believe that people who have experienced conflict hold onto intercommunity tensions after coming to Canada, the good news is that a majority of those from conflict zones advocate education-based approaches to resolving differences.


“Their values do not diverge significantly from that of the general population,” said Dr. Berns-McGown. “Their views do not remain static as they begin to reframe them through Canadian lenses of human rights and rule of law.” However, she cautioned that racism and other forms of serious social exclusion risk undermining Canada’s social cohesion and security because they make it more difficult for those who left behind conflicts to change their understanding of it.

She also pointed out that the study’s focus group participants worried that inter-community dialogues might risk stirring up old problems. “That is sad, in part because it means that we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to build trust and identify common interests and priorities. If we were to work together to promote peace ‘back home,’ we would arguably be demonstrating the ultimate value of the multiculturalism that the vast majority of us hold very dear.”

The study lists a number of recommendations to avoid the risks, including:

  • Implementing specific proposals to combat racism and exclusion in the labour market and public institutions.
  • Working towards economic integration of newcomers to Canada and establishing jobs strategies targeted towards young people.
  • Mobilizing healthcare resources to address conflict-related trauma.
  • Establishing a national education strategy related to conflict and its effects.
  • Encouraging Canadians from all sides of overseas conflicts to engage in constructive dialogue.

In her closing presentation, Tasleem Damji Budhwani, noted psychologist and leading Canadian expert on countering violent extremism, said everyone has a right to tell their stories and perceptions and be heard. “Respect for each other, and being valued, loved and safety,” are what we as a society can give each other Dr. Budhwani said. “Our diversity and inclusion give us the tools as a nation to be remarkably resilient.”


Mar 13 2014


“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world… Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at the Diversity@Work conference in Toronto.

When Steam Whistle set up business in downtown Toronto in 1998, the brewery wanted a brew master with a master’s degree in the field. As no such post-secondary education program existed in North America then, it was forced to look afar for talent. It found the right person in the Czech Republic.

“If you’re going to [produce] a pilsner that competes internationally, you need to have people capable of bringing that to the table,” Steam Whistle co-founder Greg Taylor told the Globe and Mail in an interview. “[Also, immigrants] take their jobs very seriously and are very passionate, and at the end of the day that helps your bottom line.”

The need for global talent to remain competitive has only intensified in the years since. And that’s the message Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was driving home at the Diversity@Work conference held by Skills for Change in Toronto at the end of February 2014.

“We need to attract the best and brightest from around the world to Ontario and the situation is not like before. Apart from competing with other countries, we are now in competition with other provinces,” said Minister Coteau. “The mayor of Calgary [Naheed Nenshi] was in town the other day to attract talent to his city.”

The minister said Ontario wanted to implement a new immigration strategy and intended to fully maximize the advantages newcomers and diversity bring. He pointed out that globally, seven out of the top ten brands were founded by immigrants and together these companies now employed 10 million people world-wide. “Same is the case with Fortune 100 companies and nearer home. A Bank of Montreal study found that half of Ontario’s rich are immigrants.”

The good and the bad

With one-third of Ontario’s ruling Liberal caucus being born outside the country and a quarter of them being visible minorities, “the good news is that people in government share the same stories as the immigrant population of the province,” said the minister.

But he also mentioned some bad news, namely the province and Canada underutilizing the skills of internationally-trained immigrants. A 2004 Conference Board of Canada study estimated the cost to Canada as between $3.4 – 5 billion per year in lost productivity. According to Statistics Canada, among those employed in 2006 only 24% of foreign-educated immigrants were working in the regulated profession for which they trained compared to 62% among Canadian-born.

A 2012 TD Economics study says simply closing the gap in employment rates between newcomers and native-born Canadians would mean approximately 370,000 additional people working. It is estimated that the potential increased personal income if newcomers’ skills were rewarded on par with that of native-born Canadians would top $30 billion or 2% of GDP.

Most importantly, Minister Coteau said immigration is not a one-way ticket. Newcomers to Ontario arrive with vital ties and connections to their former homelands that can be leveraged to produce economic growth and prosperity for Ontario. “We want to tap into global trade as at present only 7% of our companies are looking out for opportunities outside of the U.S. One of the keys to realizing this two-way benefit is to quickly integrate immigrants into our economy. Another key is to get the internationally trained working in their fields as soon as possible.”

He pointed to the TD Economics study that said “Newcomers complement the skills of the domestic labour force, bring new investments and innovative practices, help to open trade routes with their countries of origin and enhance cultural diversity.” Indeed, building stronger and inclusive communities that promote and value diversity would help all Ontario businesses and municipalities grow and succeed.

You don’t have to convince Steam Whistle. Since its first hiring experience 16 years ago proved to be a good one, the brewery has been proactive in employing new immigrants without Canadian training and experience. Today, its staff reflect Toronto’s much acclaimed diversity. In 2007, Steam Whistle’s inclusive hiring was recognized when it won the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Immigrant Success Award for leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.

The business case for diversity couldn’t be clearer. Listed below are a few more Good Ideas from far and near:

Feb 25 2014


On February 19, 2014, Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, proposed the province’s first ever immigration legislation. Bill 161 follows A New Direction: Ontario’s Immigration Strategy, released in November 2012.

The bill, if passed, includes parts that would allow Ontario to:

  • Select immigrants to Ontario, in collaboration with the federal government, and set target levels for the number of individuals selected for Ontario;
  • Establish a registry of employers that would be eligible to make job offers to individuals selected under selection programs;
  • Enact compliance and enforcement measures to protect people from fraudulent immigration services and to deter fraud in the immigration application process; and
  • Increase fairness for internationally trained health professionals.

The proposed legislation also includes a provision for the Minister to conduct research on permanent and temporary immigration, selection and settlement. If carried out, this would be a welcome recognition of the importance of gathering evidence to inform policy making on immigration in the province.

The government of Ontario also announced that it will redesign its Provincial Nominee Program and has called to increase the number of immigrants coming to Ontario through this program to 5,000, up from the current level of 1,300.

In addition, the bill aims for collaborative relationships with the federal government, municipalities and employers.

Valuing immigrants’ contributions to Ontario

Significantly, the proposed legislation affirms the importance of immigrants to Ontario, and the role that they play in shaping the provinces’ social, economic and cultural values. The bill also recognizes the province’s family and humanitarian obligations.

In these ways, the bill is part of the province’s effort to write its own immigration story – one that is positive, inclusive, and recognizes the contributions that immigrants and refugees make to Ontario.

The bill underwent first reading on February 19. It must now undergo review by committee, and second and third readings before possibly becoming law.


Feb 20 2014

Canada's Best Diversity Employers

On February 10, 2014, the winners of the annual Canada’s Best Diversity Employers competition were announced, recognizing employers from across the country for creating inclusive workplaces for employees from five diverse groups: women; visible minorities; persons with disabilities; Aboriginal peoples; and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) peoples. Employers were selected by the editorial team at the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, which manages the competition.

In this post, we highlight employers who have developed and implemented programs and HR strategies –  many in partnership with immigrant employment organizations – to create a more inclusive working environment for visible minorities and skilled immigrants.

A number of companies have recognized the power of mentoring and networking and the mutual benefit for both the employer and the skilled immigrant. Employees at Agrium Inc., Jazz Aviation, Newalta and National Bank are helping skilled immigrants develop their Canadian career by providing coaching, guidance and connecting them to their colleagues. KMPG has participated in the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Mentoring Partnership for over seven years and regional offices have since partnered with other immigrant employment councils to offer similar programs (Mentorat Montréal, Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council and the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council). Cameco supports the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association’s Connector program, which matches employees with internationally trained job-seekers for networking opportunities.

Enbridge and Rogers Communications offer skilled immigrants a much needed job opportunity by providing paid internships through Career Bridge. Shaw Communications, the City of Saskatoon, and Saskatchewan Government Insurance work with local settlement organizations to offer work placement opportunities.

Winning companies are also implementing innovative HR practices to develop an inclusive working environment. BC Hydro encourages managers to hire skilled newcomers at junior-level positions and provides a defined career advancement plan, which includes timelines for performance and development reviews. The electric utility also recognizes provisional membership to regulatory bodies, such as the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA), and supports new Canadian employees through the membership process.

Various levels of government also recognize the value of a diverse workforce. The Ontario Public Service piloted an Admin Support Program, which offers visible minority and Aboriginal administrative staff learning and development opportunities by placing them in a higher stream position for a full year. The City of Ottawa partnered with Hire Immigrants Ottawa to host a coaching event for new Canadians and provides members with opportunities to connect with human resource professionals.

We would also like to congratulate ALLIES national partners who have been recognized as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers: CIBC, Dentons Canada LLP, Ernst & Young LLP, RBC, TD Bank Group and Telus Corporation. These employers have continually implemented a range of initiatives to attract and retain employees from diverse communities and create an inclusive working environment.


Feb 19 2014

Young boy with drawing

By Sandhya Ranjit

• “I lost them [grandparents]”
• “I feel kind of sad leaving the friends I left behind”
• “I wonder where my new home will be”

These expressions from children’s narratives, along with the drawing of a little girl who found herself in a basketball court and did not know how to play the game, are some of the findings of a qualitative study about immigrant children’s feelings and experiences of moving to Canada.

The study by Monica Valencia, a recent graduate of the Immigration and Settlement Studies program at Ryerson University, showed a mismatch between what researchers commonly see as problem areas – such as cultural clashes, ethnic identity, academic performance, and cultural brokering provided by children for their parents – and what the ten Latin American children she talked to saw as their priorities.

Titled Yo Cuento: Latin American Immigrant Children Tell Their Stories, meaning “I narrate” or “I matter” in Spanish, Valencia presented her study at a recent CERIS seminar on Immigrant Children and Families. It was based on the stories of five children from Colombia, two from Venezuela, and one each from Mexico, Bolivia and Ecuador. Equally split among boys and girls, the ages of the children ranged from nine to 11. All of them had lived in Canada for less than five years and came through a variety of immigration streams.

Valencia spent considerable time with each child to make them feel comfortable and talk freely with her. She spent time with them drawing, talking and writing. What these children expressed in their drawings is revealing. Their short narratives, as well as their discussions, helped identify the issues that children themselves are concerned with most.

Four recurring themes

“Four main themes came about from the research sessions,” says Valencia. The children missed their grandparents, were worried about their future home (as some children had moved through many countries and cities), were frustrated at not knowing English, and valued doing cultural brokering among peers.

Like adult immigrants, children too miss their extended families. “The most common stress they faced was being far away from their grandmothers,” she said. One drawing in the study shows a distressed child with his hands stretched out to reach the grandparents and family who are standing away while he is being pulled away by his mother. “Children expressed that separation from their grandmothers is devastating, painful and sad. They miss their grandmothers’ love, care, companionship and support,” says Valencia.

Moving to too many places, which required children to re-adapt in the new environment, was another cause of tension. Moving made them anxious for obvious reasons – they had to leave behind their old friends and make new ones in new locations where they struggled with loneliness and not knowing how they would be received by their new school mates. “They were preoccupied by the disruption and creation of their own social capital,” says Valencia.

Language conundrum

The children found learning English very difficult and even thought it would be impossible to acquire the language. Nonetheless, they understood the importance of English and were keen to learn it to overcome loneliness, to make friends and to do well in academics. While at it, they realized that they were losing their own language. They took initiative to overcome the “language loss” by writing to their grandparents and talking to them on the phone in their own language.

Language mediation, where they exchanged skills and support with other children, were some of the activities these children engaged in without realizing they were bartering. As one child framed it, “I teach her mathematics and she teaches me English.”

The study also highlighted the significance of cultural brokering where other children helped them with school-related issues such as assignments, introducing them to others and instructing on school protocol. The “brokers” that Valencia talked to found it a rewarding experience to provide language mediation for peers, as they saw value in passing on what they once received when they were new.

Valencia says that young immigrant children should be encouraged to identify their needs, express their feelings, and voice their opinions. “Understanding their needs and hearing directly from them about the problems they face can help us create meaningful programs to support them.”

She recommends implementing programs that encourage immigrant children to both mingle with other children and use their talents, and to be active and form friendships in a new community. Settlement services could also offer more counselling to children in multiple languages. Taking a cue from a point made by a child who felt scared about the way a school official spoke to her parents, Valencia suggests that all school personnel should be made aware of their attitude towards newcomer children and their parents.

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