Community engagement for social justice and social change
Starting in 2007, the Mennonite New Life Centre identified community engagement as one of its three organizational priorities. It stems from the belief that full integration happens when newcomers participate in shaping their own environment, exercising leadership through reflection and action on social justice issues.
In recent years, our community engagement work has focused on building civic participation to address systemic barriers to fair and meaningful employment in newcomer communities. We work alongside immigrants and refugees to build analysis and policy recommendations, develop advocacy skills and understanding of our political context, and establish partnerships for collective action and a stronger, more effective voice.
“To work for justice requires us to give priority to the dignity of the person – the first step is to make people active agents of their own lives.”
Our work is organized around four strategic lines of action: Civic and political literacy, participatory action research, coalition work and newcomer organizing.
Education in Civic and Political Literacy
These workshops, done individually and in series, with newcomer groups across Toronto create spaces of critical reflection about the Canadian state and society. By tailoring each workshop to the particular group of participants, we are able to facilitate relevant and engaging discussions about topics as diverse as socio-economic inequalities, government structures and decision-making among others. We embrace controversial conversations while relying on the latest data and analysis to present an accurate overview of each issue.
Projects include: Latin American Civic participation Campaign (2010/2014); Building Blocks (2012-2013); Unlocking Newcomer Civic Participation – Here samples of calls out for Youth and LGBT (2013-2015)
Participatory Action Research (PAR) process
Our PARs are opportunities to immerse ourselves in a deeper investigation of particular trends within our work. In this process we engage with community members to better understand issues like civic/political engagement, and income/employment and produce critical pieces of knowledge and reflection that can be shared with our allies inside and outside the settlement sector. These research projects inject new insights into our community engagement work and allow us to shape discourses in relevant fields of work.
PARs include: Refusing to Settle for Less (2009); Community Mappings (2011-2012 * Here a video reporting 2012 activities); A Question of Lacking Access or Diversifying Action (2013-2014)
By working with other organizations from the settlement sector as well as those in the public, private and academic sectors, we develop innovative means of doing adult education work with immigrant communities. As part of this process, we challenge our peers, and are challenged by them, to think differently about the causes of struggles faced by newcomers and how best to address them. These spaces allow us to better understand where we stand as an institution relative to others in terms of our adult education approach.
Among the most challenging and rewarding aspects of doing adult education work for us has been starting and sustaining newcomer groups in such a way that it results in the participants eventually feeling the capacity to become leaders and adult educators themselves. Our combination of political literacy about immigrant struggles along with a robust training on public speaking has been successful at nurturing such spaces and allowing newcomers to find their voices.
Through our community engagement work, we challenge unjust policies and practices that stand in the way of newcomer settlement and integration. At the same time, we propose and support alternatives that affirm the dignity and potential of newcomers.
We believe that sharing our clients’ stories and our frontline experience can help policymakers to better understand the experience of newcomers and make more informed and compassionate decisions.
What you can do:
Stay informed. Pay attention to news reports about immigration issues. Look for alternative sources of information. Talk to newcomers about how they have been affected by immigration policies.
Educate others. Organize a talk or a workshop. Invite both newcomers and advocates to speak. There are many myths and misunderstandings about refugees and immigrants that contribute to prejudice and racism. Education is the first step to change.
Write a letter or visit your MP. Let decision makers know what you think. Share your concerns, and give clear recommendations for change. Newcomers have rights to be respected and contributions to offer Canada.
Participate in advocacy campaigns. Watch this website for information about current campaigns, or visit our advocacy links.