Mennonite Centre – A Bridge to Integration

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For forty years, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) has been a beacon of hope to immigrants and refugees who make Edmonton their home.  

EMCN was established in 1981 to help many newcomers, especially from Vietnam, who had been displaced because of internal strife in the land of their birth. According to the EMCN’s website, the Centre came into being under a Board consisting of members of the First Mennonite Church, the Holyrood Mennonite Church, and the Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church to assist newcomers to integrate into Canadian society.   

EMCN began with hardly any paid staff and many volunteers, helping newcomers learn English and find employment. Today, the Centre offers services in employment, settlement, community involvement, and language skills; and employs 230 staff who speak fifty languages altogether.   

Through its Community Connections Program, EMCN offers services for parents, children, youths, women, and men to improve their language skills, participate in community activities, make new connections, and learn other skills that help them integrate into Canadian society.  

EMCN also helps professionals access bridging courses required to enhance their knowledge, skills, and licensing for employment in their chosen fields.   

Two of the services offered at the Centre are the Immigrant Women’s Integration Network (I-WIN) and the Civic Engagement by Newcomer Youths (CENY) programs.    

I-WIN graduating students on Zoom

Immigrant Muse spoke with Harika Chanana, a beneficiary of the I-WIN program and also the Community Connector for both I-WIN and CENY to learn about these two programs.   

Soon after marriage, Chanana, an established Indian photographer, arrived in Edmonton and faced uncertainties and disappointments like most newcomers. Attempts to find meaningful work eluded her until she attended a career fair where she learned about EMCN and registered for the I-WIN program. It was through a friend she made at this program that Channa first found employment. She continued to volunteer at EMCN, and was eventually hired to run I-WIN- the very program that set her up for success in Canada.    

Designed for immigrant women, I-WIN is a six-week certificate course that provides participants with the information and tools for self-growth and helps them find employment. 

Program participants, says Chanana, are exposed to guest speakers and networking activities. They receive training on the skills to face employment interviews and to craft their resumes to Canadian standards. Once they have perfected those skills, they meet with a job developer who helps participants access job opportunities.   

I-WIN also connects participants to professionals within and outside the Centre to help them understand the Canadian workplace culture.  

“Most participants leave the program with a job in hand”, says Chanana. Participants are encouraged to stay in touch with each other, usually through WhatsApp, to share their experiences, support one another, and update the group about employment opportunities.  

I-WIN is open to women over 18 years of age who are either permanent residents or protected refugees.  

A recent graduate of the program, Sabrine Mzad described I-WIN to Immigrant Muse as a “very rich and diverse program that offers to teach you a broad range of things from idioms, to job search strategies, going through mental health and wellbeing. To someone new to Canada in general and to Edmonton in particular, it is THE richest program offered. The resources sent to us over six months are priceless, and no aspect of practical life is neglected.”     

She goes on to add that the program is successful because of its “thoroughness, excellence and professionalism. Also, the fact that it is delivered by women empowering other women. In short, I-WIN keeps its promises.” She also says she enjoyed the way the course is delivered and that she felt “appreciated and supported.”   

The CENY program is open to newcomer youths between the ages of 15 and 20, irrespective of their status- permanent residents or refugees.  

Through various activities, the program provides youth with leadership skills, conflict resolution and teaches them the importance of civic engagement. They learn about the Canadian culture and how to integrate.  

Recently, participants held a Bottle Drive campaign, where they raised $2200, which was donated to UNICEF to assist 72 girls with school fees and supplies. This was a matching grant initiative and resulted in 72 more girls getting help.  

Tasnim Halabiya joined CENY in 2020 and says the program helped her make friends and also gave her the confidence to help others. She has been involved in several projects and describes the Bottle Drive campaign through which girls in Africa were given support as a great experience. Whatever the campaign, “it is fun and we learn from it. The program facilitators teach us to believe in ourselves, and to be mentors and leaders”, she added.   

Sedra Sharabji echoes Halabiya’s sentiments. When she moved to Edmonton from New Brunswick in 2019, she felt lost and had no friends, which was resolved after joining CENY. The weekly meetings, presentations, and the resources provided, as well as the field trips have contributed to her self-growth. Both girls told Immigrant Muse, they were sad when the program ended. Determined to stay in touch and to give back, they are now both volunteers in the CENY program as mentors. 

Kshama Ranawana
Kshama Ranawana

Kshama Ranawana is a freelance writer, publishing both in Canada and in Sri Lanka, her country of birth. She is a contributing columnist to EconomyNext.com and Counterpoint.lk. Kshama is also a human rights activist, with decades long commitment to freedom of speech, protection of journalists, freedom of worship, women’s rights, and protection of vulnerable communities and the environment. 

Email: kshama@immigrantmuse.ca

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