Project to empower immigrant women expands to other Alberta cities

An Edmonton initiative that has empowered hundreds of immigrant women to exercise their rights is expanding to Calgary, Lethbridge and St. Paul.

The Stride Advocacy Project is expanding to Calgary, Lethbridge and St. Paul

The Stride Advocacy Project has received a $50,000 grant from the province to branch out to Calgary, Lethbridge and St. Paul. (John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights )

An Edmonton initiative that has empowered hundreds of immigrant women to exercise their rights is expanding.

The Stride Advocacy Project received a $50,000 grant this week from the provincial Status of Women department to branch out to Calgary, Lethbridge and St. Paul, and to offer programming to more Indigenous women.

The program was launched a year ago by the Alberta Somali Community Centre and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, with a $100,000 grant from the city.

Over the past year, 221 Stride participants, mostly women from Edmonton's Somali and Syrian communities, have been taught how to advocate for themselves, access services and navigate bureaucracies in areas such as housing, employment and education.

"It's actually just giving people that knowledge so they can exercise their own agency to solve their own problems," Angelica Quesada, a researcher with John Humphrey, told CBC News on Thursday.

"It's also taking a lot of pressure from agencies that have to support these people when they can do it themselves."

It's actually just giving people that knowledge so they can exercise their own agency to solve their own problems- Angelica Quesada, John Humphrey Centre

The program breaks down barriers in other ways, too. Organizers made it easier for participants to attend by providing childcare, transportation and food. Two translators offered services in Arabic and Somali over a total of 10 sessions.

"It bridged the language barrier that is one of the main (reasons) why people don't get service, because they have to find a translator or a friend or a worker that can go with them and access those services," said Quesada.

She pointed out how difficult bureaucracies can be to navigate, even for those who speak English or have lived in Canada all their lives.
Angelica Quesada with the John Humphrey Centre says Stride gives immigrant women the tools they need to advocate for themselves.

"So now imagine someone who is getting familiar with the language but suffering from health or mental health issues," she said. "It might be a legitimate case and they just need to be supported in the proper way to get what they need."

Over 10 sessions, topics ranged from victims' rights, health care, human rights, child intervention and supports available to help with the immigration process.

The goal was to help those attending understand what services they are entitled to, how to access them, and what to do when they can't. Some sessions evolved into clinics because participants needed more than just information, said Quesada.

Among those presenting and offering training were lawyers, teachers and members of the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation. Participants also heard from officials with Alberta Supports, and offices of the child advocate and Alberta Health Advocates.

'Eased their challenges'

Participants said Stride "provided emotional support and eased their challenges in life," said Quesada. 

Staff from grassroots organizations were also given access to the sessions so they could better assist clients involved in complicated cases.

Stride's new grant is one of 32 projects that received funding this week from Alberta's department for the status of women totalling $850,000.

The next session will take place in Lethbridge on Sept. 11, with guest speaker Chickadee Richard, the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of First Nations in Manitoba.

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

Reporter

Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca