News Local

Citizens talk about diversity

Annalise Klingbeil

Special to the Standard

Over 50 citizens from rural centers including Brooks, Chestermere, Burdett, Vermillion, Medicine Hat, Tofield, Olds and Strathmore attended a unique cultural diversity symposium called Opening Doors: Creating Conditions for Success on Sept. 29 and 30.

The event was hosted by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and the Southern Alberta Rural Intercultural Learning Network and aimed to share best practices and engage employers, businesses and citizens in a conversation about cultural diversity, multiculturalism and building welcoming communities in rural centers.

The symposium included workshops, panel discussions and a Thursday evening gala.

During the Thursday after lunch panel discussion, Andy Woodland, Lynn Pye-Matheson and Bevan Daverne spoke about the challenges and issues faced by newcomers in Southern Alberta.

Woodland told the audience about his experiences as Human Resources Manager at Sunterra Meats.

Woodland said that newcomers have an array of questions, which seem obvious to even the most well-meaning local person.

"How do you dress for cold weather? How do you drive a car? How do you drive a car in winter... How do you know what Alberta Health Care will pay and won't pay?" said Woodland.

As HR Manager, Woodland is responsible for providing the right answers to newcomers questions and doing everything from coordinating ESL classes to orienting foreign workers to life in Canada.

Daverne, superintendant of schools with Golden Hills School Division, talked about how the school division has embraced international students and taken into consideration their differences.

"Language aside, cultures are very different in how they approach just about everything," said Daverne.

"Kids problem solve differently from different parts of the world... We sometimes have to teach kids how to line up, how to ask questions, how to do almost everything that we take for granted within our own culture, never mind the English acquisition."

Daverne said multicultural influences in the school division's schools have helped to break down stereotypes.

"Kids get an idea in their mind of what a student from Japan is like, or a student from Africa is like, and when they actually get to see these students, make friends, have experiences they realize they have a lot in common," said Daverne.

Pye-Matheson, executive director of the Grasslands Regional Family and Community Support Services Society in Brooks spoke to the audience about the transformation of Brooks over the years, in large part because of the meat packing plant.

Pye-Matheson said as the population of Brooks increased, specifically amongst refugees and immigrants, changes were needed.

"With the people that were moving to Brooks there was an absolute need to increase services and programs so that people moving there from other parts of the world, many of them having been savaged and traumatized by war, could be helped and could also be welcomed into the community in a way that was meaningful," said Pye-Matheson.

The afternoon panel discussion was a chance for those in attendance to hear about others' experiences in welcoming newcomers into small rural centres, with the hope that best practices can be adopted moving forward.