Public Awareness Program at Central Alberta Refugee Effort
Central Alberta Refugee Effort Organization
The Public Awareness Program, initiated in 1995, seeks to educate, raise awareness, and motivate communities in Central Alberta to be welcoming and inclusive for immigrants and to eliminate racism and discrimination. It offers opportunities for public engagement through major community events in partnership with other organizations. It also delivers Intercultural Awareness Training and Anti- Racism Response Training to many organizations throughout Central Alberta. A corresponding school program engages students and staff in many ways to build concepts of respect, acceptance, and inclusiveness.
Former Executive Director, Veena Chandra immigrated to Canada from India. She experienced challenges in settlement and faced racism and discrimination. Her dream for the Program was to raise intercultural awareness in the community and to eliminate racism and discrimination, while focusing on building welcoming and inclusive communities.
Educate, raise awareness about the experiences and challenges past and present of immigrants and refugees, and motivate communities in Central Alberta to be welcoming and inclusive and to eliminate racism and discrimination. Many topics are offered for children and youth as we believe that if we can educate children through exposure to people of different cultures, we can make a difference in their schools, homes and neighborhoods, and prevent racism. Topics offered in the workplace are related to cross cultural awareness and communication, anti - racism response training, respectful, inclusive workplaces, and the assessment of cultural competency. The workshops are custom designed to be work-site specific.
Some of the clients and volunteers at Central Alberta Refugee Effort had shared their stories of racism and discrimination with the staff. For example, a visible minority sales clerk at a gas station was openly insulted by a customer, a customer at a car showroom was racially insulted, a staff member in a local company experienced racist comments directed at her across the table from a colleague, ethnic store owners suffering racist slurs painted on their walls, neighbor to neighbor racist comments, school bullies targeting ethnic youth, posters in the downtown advertising KKK meetings. These lived experiences provided the impetus needed to create a program to inform, educate and raise awareness to lessen or eliminate such incidents.
Making a Difference:
At every workshop we offer opportunities for the participants to give feedback. We are constantly evaluating whether we have achieved specific outcomes or goals by interacting with students, teachers, employers, employees, and members of public; to gather data, do research, and assess individual and systemic change. Challenging teachers/students to evaluate next steps, how to address challenging situations, examining "zero tolerance" and what that means etc.
One of the major challenges is due to the growth of the Public Awareness Program, which necessitated development of a Strategic Plan in 2013. Another challenge is to continue exploring innovative ideas to further the goals of reaching even broader and more diverse target groups, and to constantly be adjusting and adapting the program to meet emerging needs.
Vision for the Future:
We will continue to deliver our Public Awareness Program with a shift towards building community engagement and capacity for improved multicultural understanding and from there a reduction in racism will result. We would like to also be able to offer online Intercultural Training which would be available through our website, Facebook and Linkedin.
As we held the CommUnity Power of One Event on March 21st, 2016, attendees were invited to give feedback. Some indicated that the impact was immediate - they had personally made changes in their perspective, and attitude. Over 75% of participants in our workshops indicate positive transformation and change.
About Central Alberta Refugee Effort Organization
Nonprofit organization with charitable status, formed in 1979 by concerned citizens who recognized the need to assist refugees coming to Red Deer after the Vietnam War. The agency’s mission is to support the efforts of immigrants and refugees, to remove barriers and participate fully in Canadian life as valued members of the Central Alberta community by providing coordinated services across organizations, and encouraging a welcoming environment.