A team of researchers is asking Fredericton immigrants to share their stories and concerns to create positive change in the city.
Gül Çalışkan, professor of sociology at St. Thomas University, helps lead the Promise of Home project in partnership with the City of Fredericton.
Over the past three years, the team has collected stories from school-aged immigrants and immigrant families through community workshops with the goal of understanding their challenges to create a list of recommendations for the city.
“This project for me comes back again and again, that we as immigrants want people to see all the human behind our body, behind our accent, behind the languages we speak, behind the way we dress. “, said Çalışkan, who immigrated to Canada. from Turkey.
“Immigrants are not blank pages, we bring skills, lived experience, life to this community we now call home.”
Hala Bakhash, a graduate of Leo Hayes High School, is one of 11 high school girls who shared their stories.
The 19-year-old immigrated to Fredericton from Syria in 2017 and said having a platform to talk about the challenges she faced during this experience made her joyful.
“I feel like I’ve been heard…that I’m part of the community and I’m important to the community,” she said.
The project is now in the phase of asking all immigrants aged 16 and over to share their stories.
Çalışkan said that after collecting stories from each immigrant group, the team thought about what kind of change could have the most impact on each of them.
“Secondary and post-secondary education is really about understanding the experiences and challenges that immigrant students face in school systems,” Çalışkan said.
She said the stories shared by immigrant high school students drew the team’s attention to changes that could be made to the school curriculum and how language services for newcomers are a key issue.
Çalışkan said it would be beneficial for them to have a one-year program for immigrants to learn English, as well as to incorporate their histories and different cultures into the classroom.
She said the stories of immigrant families opened up a much broader set of considerations, including challenges with immigration services, the general workforce and the healthcare system.
Participating immigrants range in age from 16 to over 70 and come from all over the world, including Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and China.
Çalışkan said another part of the project is to collect videos of each participant sharing their stories.
“We hope that in the end it will be a documentary length production,” she said.
The project team includes Sebastián Salazar, city cultural consultant, Sophie Lavoie, professor of culture and media studies at the University of New Brunswick, and Bianca Prăjescu, Charles Pan and Justine Thomas, research students.
Çalışkan said the hope was to have a list of recommendations by the end of next year.
Bakhash said she hopes the Promise of Home project will help raise awareness of Muslim culture, minimize bullying for herself and other newcomers.
She said moving to a new country was scary.
“I was going to a place I knew nothing about,” Bakhash said.
Despite her concerns, she felt welcomed by the community and received most of the support she needed upon arrival.
“It feels like home, but every place needs changes,” she said.
Bakhash said learning English and feeling able to wear her hijab without judgment were the biggest challenges she faced.
“The way we dress is very different…I found it difficult to keep wearing my hijab. However, I wanted to keep wearing it so people could know,” Bakhash said.
She was able to find friends who encouraged her to talk about her culture and to continue wearing her hijab.
“We are like them”
But she still faces racism and bullying, which she says comes from people who don’t understand her culture and the importance of wearing a hijab.
As part of the Promise of Home project, Bakhash recounted an educational video on the importance and meaning of hijab in Muslim culture.
She said women who wear the hijab are often stereotyped as not being approachable or unwilling to communicate. It is often seen as oppressive towards women, but in Muslim culture it is seen as emancipatory for women.
“If people knew more about our culture, they would feel safe talking to us,” Bakhash said.
“We are like them, the way we dress does not change us.”