The Cowichan Intercultural Society's (CIS) Compassionate Leaders Project provides full-day leadership workshops at schools, a two-and-a-half day residential leadership camp, and ongoing support for students and teachers with the aim of increasing cultural awareness and building skills to stand up for diversity.
To date, nearly 400 students and teachers have attended leadership workshops in all five schools in School District 79 in Cowichan Valley, British Columbia.
The workshops give students and teachers an opportunity to examine their perceptions and assumptions – the root causes of discrimination – about their peers, and help foster empathy and curiosity for differences.
Workshop participants who are inspired to deepen their learning are invited to the main phase of the project: an intensive, two-and-a-half day residential leadership camp, which teaches skills that can be applied in personal relationships, families, schools and communities.
At the end of the camp, participants form school diversity teams and begin to create action plans for youth-led projects. CIS works closely with participants over the rest of the school year to help them complete their action plans and implement their projects.
The project was inspired by Inclusive Leadership Adventures (ILA), which was co-founded by former CIS employee Dr. Linda Hill. ILA is an innovative community-building model that brings a group of intercultural and intergenerational people together for a weekend of experiential diversity education.
As the only organization serving immigrants and refugees in the Cowichan Region, CIS plays a significant role in building bridges in schools, workplaces and the larger community, to ensure that all community members feel a sense of value and belonging.
The Compassionate Leaders Project is consistent with CIS's vision of co-creating more welcoming and inclusive communities. CIS recognizes that the road to inclusion requires working not only with newcomers, but also with the broader community, because the road to inclusion is a two-way street.
CIS was also inspired by the First Nations teachings in the Circle of Courage as an effective way to build participants' self-esteem through an opportunity to learn generosity, belonging, mastery and independence.
The project respects the Best Practice in CIS's work supporting immigrants and refugees in their settlement to the Cowichan Region and Canada.
Although its core programs and services are vital, CIS believes it is also important to work with the community into which people are settling. As such, it works locally with businesses, government, schools and the community to raise awareness and understanding around the importance of diversity and inclusion.
The Compassionate Leaders Project also focuses on the unique needs of students and schools. It imparts critical skills necessary for students to stand up for differences and be more welcoming to newcomers and others who are different than themselves.
In 2010, CIS facilitated a dialogue between newcomer youth and local secondary school students to explore the newcomers' experiences. Based on that dialogue, the youth drew up recommendations to create more welcoming, inclusive school environments.
The recommendations identified a need for students to receive training in, and a better understanding of, inter-cultural communication; the reasons behind different clothing or customs; how to stand up when newcomer students are excluded or discriminated against, and ways to be more empathetic, respectful, welcoming and inclusive towards all students.
Making a Difference
A key Best Practice is in the action planning and youth-led projects, in which CIS supports participants as they identify what matters most to them and the things they wish to change. This helps provide a framework for their projects while allowing participants to feel a genuine sense of accomplishment in successfully implementing their projects.
The youth-led projects have had short- and long-term impacts on other students as well as on the larger community. Seeing the impact of their projects fosters a strong sense of empowerment and the confidence to apply the action-planning model in the future.
While the project was supported in its development by the district superintendent, CIS spent considerable time building relationships with the principals and staff at each of the five schools.
CIS also worked in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, which was running a project in three of the five target schools.
Vision for the Future
The project exceeded all expectations and the feedback from participants, schools and the community has helped CIS see the importance of the Compassionate Leaders Project. As such, the project has been identified as a priority for ongoing funding to make it the core youth program at CIS.
CIS will continue to incorporate its Best Practices into all of its future programming and services. It will also continue to build on its relationships with community partners and share its successes and challenges.
About the Cowichan Intercultural Society
The Cowichan Intercultural Society is a non-profit organization that offers seamless settlement services including one-on-one settlement and employment counselling, English as a Second Language classes, mentorship and youth programs. It is a regional leader in diversity education to local government, businesses, schools and the community towards co-creating a Cowichan Region of inclusion and belonging.
Best Practice Contact
Cowichan Intercultural Society
205-394 Duncan St.
Duncan, BC V9L3W4