12 Moments of Hope: A Look Back at 2021

Bringing People Together is at the heart of the New Canadians Centre. This year, that focus has been more important than ever. Hope transforms lives. Whether it’s in the friends you make at an NCC activity, in the opportunities to grow and learn new skills, in the desire and commitment to give back, or in the courage to tell your story – hope lies in it all.

Here are 12 Moments of Hope from 2021:

1. Peterborough’s newest Canadian Citizens remind us of the power of welcome

In 2016, when Peterborough began welcoming Government-Assisted Refugees from Syria, the Eshhadeh family were the first ones to arrive. At the start of 2021, they became the first of the nearly 80 GAR families that have settled in Peterborough to become Canadian Citizens. Their milestone had us reflecting on how far we’ve come as a community. (Re)Settlement work can often be very challenging, and there is never a dull moment. Seeing the smiling faces full of pride and happiness on clients like the Eshhadehs serves as a reminder of the value and importance of this work. It provides safety, connection, opportunity, peace of mind, belonging, and hope. Hope for a better life.

Read more: The Power of Welcome & Friendship >>

2. Newcomer Mithila Ballal uses movement and dance to get through the pandemic while helping others

In the Spring of 2021, we shared the story of Mithila Ballal, who had last seen her family in India three years ago. While COVID-19 has provided us all with a glimpse of what it feels like when we can’t see and hug our nearest and dearest, for our clients, not only are they far from many of their family and friends, but they are also navigating much that is unfamiliar – creating a new home, trying to find work, sorting out schooling for their children, and dealing with the isolation that the pandemic has created. Mithila found light amidst the darkness by leaning into her dance practice and engaging her students at virtual events and workshops organised by the New Canadians Centre.  “The New Canadians Centre has always been a huge support for me, encouraging me in anything that I do, from my art and dance to my career as a therapist.” 

Read more: Mithila reminds us that we’ll dance together again soon >>

3. Our NCC office was always known to be bustling with activities. It’s no different in virtual land.

Throughout the pandemic, with many activities before virtual, we prepared packages that were safely delivered to clients ahead of activities. Whether it was ingredients to try Indian cooking together, gardening or craft supplies, we ensured clients had access to all the materials needed to do these activities together. Those opportunities to stay connected helped reduce social isolation and kept us all hopeful. As the summer came around, we seized the opportunity to facilitate several outdoor activities. The demand for opportunities to connect with others was so high that in 2020-21, we facilitated more group activities than ever before. 238 newcomers attended 309 group activities more than 2000 times. More on our numbers can be found in the Annual Report.

Read more: Ensuring Newcomers Stay Connected Throughout the Pandemic >>

4. Empowering newcomers to tell their stories

“I learned that you should always tell your stories, even if you are shy. It helps you by laughing, and someone can learn about your experiences,” says 11-year old Jorge Escalera Arroyo. Jorge was one of ten newcomers who participated in a 6-week program introducing newcomers to the art of storytelling and community radio. Facilitated in partnership with Trent Radio, the program aimed to support newcomers with the skills and opportunities to tell their stories on their own terms. And in doing so, help diversify voices and perspectives in local media and arts. At the end of the training, the ten participants recorded and produced stories about their lives and settlement in Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 CFFF FM and as a podcast. This builds upon the existing work of the NCC’s Living Library Program, a multi-modal storytelling and public education program of the NCC.

Listen Now: Telling the Stories from Our Communities >>

5. Newcomer youth take a leadership role in helping their peers

In November 2020, six bright high school students decided they wanted to challenge themselves and help others amidst the pandemic. They came together as the New Canadians Centre’s Young Leaders (NCCYL). They gained leadership experience, engaged in discussions, and led projects to help make positive impacts in their local communities. For their collaborative project, the youth decided to find a way to share their experiences and help newcomer youth feel more comfortable and less lonely as they settle in Canada. They created a guidebook for newcomer youth with personal stories of settlement, advice, resources, and reassurances on settling in Canada. Applying their leadership skills, they advocated for its distribution by presenting at KPRDSB and PVNCCDSB School District Committees. It has been well-received and distributed in schools, giving hope and guidance to newcomer students.

Read More: Empowering youth as leaders in newcomer engagement >>

6. With the community by his side, Edris takes every opportunity that comes his way

On a chilly winter evening in December, Edris Mohamad arrived in Peterborough from Sudan, greeted by warm winter clothing and a beautiful welcome sign at his front door by kind community members. He felt the warmth of Peterborough, regardless of the frigid temperatures. Entering into a two-week quarantine at the NCC Reception House, Edris stayed strong and took advantage of every opportunity provided. He kept busy with Arabic books and spent the afternoons watching English videos on YouTube to learn the language. He even returned to his favourite elementary school subject – art – after decades. Using simple art supplies provided to him, Edris sketched objects he noticed around the house and drew beautiful designs in gratitude to Canada and those who have supported him. His art became a source of light and inspiration for him and us.

Read more: A warm welcome and commitment to learning was the perfect recipe for success for Edris >>

7. A commitment to reconciliation & education

For many new Canadians, Canada Day is a day to celebrate their pride in building relationships and writing new chapters in their personal and family histories to revel in the peace and welcoming that we enjoy. At the same time, it must be balanced with the knowledge that Indigenous peoples endured, and continue to endure, tremendous violence and inequity for the prosperity that we enjoy today, and that racism and discrimination persist. This year, we pivoted away from our usual Multicultural Celebrations on July 1, using the day instead to reflect on our relationship with the land through film, experiential activities and readings, and teachings about Indigenous culture and history.

Read More: Lessons from the Land >>

8. Newcomer filmmaker sheds light on the experiences of migrant farmworkers

As in the previous years, the New Canadians Centre continued our care package program to reach out to migrant farmworkers in Peterborough County. These packages with welcome cards, important information, and food staples let workers know we are here for them and appreciate their efforts to get food on tables in Ontario. But we also know that the immigration system places many burdens on workers. This year, we worked with local newcomer filmmaker Shahed Khaito to shed light on these experiences. In the short documentary, The Hands That Feed Us, we are introduced to Julie Fleming and Roberto Garcia at Circle Organic.

Watch: The Hands That Feed Us >>

9. Newcomer women incubate their business ideas

At the start of May, the New Canadians Centre launched the HOBBI (Home-Based Business Incubator) Program, a 10-week skills training program for newcomer women aspiring entrepreneurs. Eleven women learned new business research & development skills, marketing, and customer service. They received support with planning out their home-based business ideas and opportunities to apply for seed funds to help them get started. They continue to benefit from mentorship and additional professional development activities organised. As the women learned practical skills, they were empowered and encouraged to chase their aspirations. Grace, one of the participants, reflects, “I have learned so much, and I now feel like I can conquer the business world. My business ideas are reinforced, and I can’t wait for what the future holds.” Charlotte, another participant, adds, “I am hoping to use the knowledge to reach my dreams.

Read More: Supporting Aspiring Newcomer Women Entrepreneurs >>

10. The community comes together to help resettle Afghan evacuees

On September 15, we shared with the community that we were expecting to receive and support 78 Afghan evacuees within two days. We asked the community to support us in creating welcome cards for the new arrivals and to send housing and volunteer leads to us. We were overwhelmed with the kindness the Peterborough community showed. Businesses, organisations, and classrooms banded together to create thoughtful cards with warm messages of hope and welcome. We received hundreds of cards within a day and many leads and temporary housing offers. We have supported many of the initial arrivals in moving to other communities, providing itinerant and remote services as needed until they were more settled. We continue to receive new Afghan families and families from other parts of the world. The Peterborough community is right there, lending a thoughtful and helping hand.

Read More: The Afghan Resettlement Effort in Peterborough >>

11. NCC commissions children’s book documenting the stories of newcomer children

In September 2021, we launched Building a Home, a children’s book inspired by the candid accounts and beautiful artwork shared by six children from Syria, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Pakistan who are now living, playing, and going to school in Nogojiwanong-Peterborough. Commissioned by the New Canadians Centre and written and illustrated by Casandra Lee, Building A Home takes on the journeys of newcomer children as we ponder the questions: How do newcomer children navigate new experiences – the good and the bad? How do they make meaning as they experience migration? And what can we learn from them? The project provided a space for young children to reflect on their experiences and express themselves creatively. The book is available in 7 languages in online and print formats. Through the generous support of the David Goyette & Victoria Pearce Arts Fund at the United Way of Peterborough and District, we can distribute 500 printed copies of the book for free in January 2022.

Read More: Building A Home to Call Our Very Own >>

12. 14-year-old Amani shows us what hope looks like

In 2016, nine-year-old Amani and her family came to Peterborough from Syria. Her youngest sister was born in the refugee camp a month earlier. Waiting for their parents at our office, the girls visited with staff to pass the time, and they started to sing: “I am a child with something to say, please listen to me. I am a child who wants to play, why don’t you let me?” A young child sang this song A’atuna Al Toufoule (Give Us Childhood), during the Lebanese civil war in the 80s. It is a song about hope.

This year, Amani and her sisters were happy to become Canadian Citizens. Her father is proud to be part of the team at Chemong Home Hardware. Her mother is looking forward to opening her own hair salon one day. Peterborough gave Amani and her family the hope they were searching for. Now, they can call Canada home. Amani says, “I want to be a doctor or a nurse. I want to help others, and I want to protect people.”

Watch: Amani tells us her family’s story of hope >>

There were so many other moments that brought hope and connection this year including:
– Winning the Not-for-Profit of the Year Award at the Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards
– Partnering with PACE & the United Way to facilitate two digital literacy courses for adults to help support their access to online engagement and opportunities
– Celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day for the first time where newcomers shared their culture with the community through food, music, dance, and storytelling
– Forming the Newcomer Leadership Group to build the capacity of newcomers to engage in governance and decision making
– Facilitating the Family Literacy in Peterborough (FLiP) program to help families learn together and combat social isolation