Promise of Home: Sharing the immigrant experience

What started as informal discussions about immigration in Fredericton quickly morphed into the beginnings of a research project when St. Thomas University professor Gül Çalışkan met up with Anthazia Kadir, an educator and writer and Sebastián Salazar, a community and social policy planner with the City of Fredericton.

Almost 11 months later, they started a two-year research project called Promise of Home that will bring newcomer youth, families and the greater Fredericton community together to create new policy recommendations for the city.

“We’ll really tease out those experiences generally silenced – not intentionally, always, but they are not really part of the curriculum, workplace, or part of our everyday lives,” said Çalışkan.

Now, a team of six is operating the research project along with Çalışkan, Salazar and Kadir.

Kadir, who’s at the core of the research, also acts as the narrative facilitator, which coordinates and facilitates the stories shared by newcomers in Fredericton.

Three STU students have joined the project including Kyle Reissner and Abbey LeJeune, both of whom are a third-year sociology students, and Patricia Saad, a journalism student and the group’s cinematographer.

The project has four phases said Çalışkan. First high school students will share their stories about immigrating to Canada. The second phase invites newcomer families to share their experiences. The third will ask the greater Fredericton community to share what they think inclusivity looks like. The final stage uses these experiences to create policy recommendations to make Fredericton more welcoming for immigrants. 

Phase one has already started. Newcomer high school students or first-generation immigrant high school students are invited to workshops at STU to help them develop their stories in the form of prose, poetry, visual arts, drama, or songwriting. The first workshop will take place on Feb. 8.

“They are very excited about it, coming to campus, working to tell their stories, because it’s very rare high school students are asked to be the spotlight in a very public, policy-driven project,” Çalışkan said.

Çalışkan, Salazar and Kadir are all immigrants.

“This is a project by immigrants, for immigrants, with immigrants and the community too. But [we’re] really putting immigrants at the centre. We have stories to tell, we have different understandings for these stories. In a way, we know what they might be and have commonalities. It’s by us, for us,” said Çalışkan.

Çalışkan said the project is called Promise of Home because immigrant children and youth come here with their families but it’s not their choice.  She said home is promised to them.

“We need to hear what’s going on. We need to hear the positive things and the not-so-positive things because every story of an obstacle that was faced and if it was overcome, with the help of whom, is important to know. If it hasn’t been overcome, why?” Salazar Said.

Reissner has been working as Çalışkan’s research assistant for almost two years.

Reissner was born in Fredericton and said his experiences are drastically different than somebody who’s immigrated to Canada.

“I think it’s important because time and time again I’ve heard stories of people that have immigrated to Canada or Fredericton and they might not feel as included with the general community as they should.” 

Çalışkan said it’s important to hear from newcomers and people who were born in Canada but come from a first-generation immigrant family.

“These stories will tell us what is challenging, what is missing, what we are doing good, what we can improve, you know?”

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