The Newcomers Workshops
Each year, thousands of immigrants enter Canada. While Canada offers many opportunities for newcomers, they are also exposed to a whole new set of environmental hazards in their new homes, workplaces, and communities. For this reason, we piloted an outreach program, which focused on raising awareness about environmental health issues for newcomers. In May 2010, WHEN had hosted these seminars in Toronto at the South Asian Family Services and Support (SAFSS) LINC Centre and in Mississauga at the Multicultural Inter-Agency Group (MIAG), reaching over 100 women and families from diverse regions such as South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Given that life in Canada is primarily spent indoors, the sessions emphasize “healthy homes”, featuring demonstrations, interactive discussions, and questions and answers about environmental exposures affecting health. Examples of topics addressed include: home gardening and pest control, indoor air quality, and cleaning and household products. Our main goal was to raise awareness about the environmental health risks found in everyday products, as well as to identify the available alternatives amongst newcomer women who were in the process of establishing the foundation of routines and practices for their families in Canada.
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WHEN decided to expand this workshop series in the GTA and was a Diversity Grant recipient from the Sustainability Network in March 2011. As a result of this grant, WHEN was able to provide educational workshops to over 300 participants, working with diverse organizations in Toronto. WHEN developed its first module in 2010 and expanded the module series in 2011, as a lot of the participants were highly satisfied with these workshops and requested further information. The high satisfaction levels reported by participants, as well as requests for further workshops on various other topics inspired us to develop additional modules, so that we could increase our scope and content. Specifically, these seminars feature demonstrations, interactive discussions, and question-and-answer sessions exploring the ways in which environmental toxin exposures can negatively impact human health. The main objectives of these workshops is to increase individual and community awareness about environmental health hazards; share information and tools about the ways in which newcomer women can reduce their exposures to potentially harmful chemicals; and to improve the state of environmental health among women and families in the Greater Toronto Area. WHEN now has five modules, which are a series of transformative educational workshops that offer newcomers information on environmental health risks and prevention.
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Challenges and opportunities
Because many immigrants have a first language that is not English, some of the special terms used in environmental health (e.g. “toxic”) are not always easy for all to understand. Thus, the sessions integrate simple environmental vocabulary to help new Canadians access environmental health information, including discussions about the meaning of “environmental health” and basic terminology to understand on product labels.
One of the most interesting things about our sessions is learning from our participants about how environmental health issues are addressed around the world! For example, did you know that coconut oil is rubbed into skin for use as sunscreen in parts of South Asia? Clearly, there is a lot that Canadians can learn about how to stay environmentally healthy from the newest members of our society.
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Following the seminars since 2010, participants reported greater awareness and understanding of the many harmful substances that they are exposed to in their daily lives and felt empowered to reduce and prevent exposure for themselves and their families. Individuals also expressed interest in working with WHEN educators in the future, as peer educators to co-facilitate workshops in their community. WHEN will continue to work with its partners to facilitate the workshops and provide support. Through a peer educator model, WHEN volunteers and Board Members facilitating workshops will also provide support and training to local community leaders to deliver these workshops. This component of the project allows participating organizations and community members to become engaged in their learning, fostering leadership skills and enhance ownership of workshop delivery.
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- Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women (4 locations throughout the GTA)
- Multicultural Inter-Agency Group of Peel (MIAG)
- Settlement Assistance & Family Support Services (SAFSS)
- South Asian Women’s Centre
- Don Valley Women of Nations
- Women’s Health HUB – MIAG
- The Environment & Diversity Mini-Grant in March 2011
Some comments from participants:
“I enjoyed the program and want to learn more”
“I would like to have more of these sessions”
“This is useful for everybody, I want to learn more”
“I look forward to learning more about the environment and health”
“Good topics and very useful”
Environmental Health for Your Community
In 2012, the project will be expanding to deliver more seminars, reaching out to other new Canadians within the Greater Toronto Area.
Please contact us if you are interested in hosting WHEN for an environmental health session in your community (e.g. at an immigrant services agency, English-language support centre, etc.). WHEN will provide you with brief preparation – no experience required! Only a few hours of your time can make a great difference to the health of newcomers. Carpools can be arranged as needed.