Regina woman to offer newcomer cooking class despite cuts from city

A home economist in Regina says she will still try to offer her cooking classes for newcomers to Canada despite having the program's funding cut by the city.
Deborah Stevens says she'll still try to run her cooking classes for those who are new to Canada, even though the city has cut funding to The Home Economic Living Program. (CBC)

A home economist in Regina says she will still try to offer her cooking classes for newcomers to Canada despite having the program's funding cut by the city. 

Deborah Stevens worked with the Home Economics for Living Program (HELP), which taught immigrants and refugees basic life skills such as cooking. 

The program also offered the classes to people who felt they needed more assistance, and people who moved to Regina from the north and rural areas. Special classes were also provided for single fathers as well as people who are paraplegic.

HELP was one of 19 non-profit community groups that received funding from the city through the Community Investment Grants program. 

In 2012 the city hired a consultant who found a lot of cross over between different groups receiving money. The consultant recommended the city focus its support on fewer groups or have some groups form partnerships to avoid duplication. 

"You know it is one of those things that obviously its a valued service, program in the community, but it does come down to the city cannot fund everybody," said Chris Holden with the city's Recreation and Parks department.

Of the the 19 groups, five received no money going forward including HELP, though the city gave the groups transitional money in 2013. 

HELP had received about $20,000 a year to run the classes. The cuts forced the programs to close its doors. 

"We'll continue as the City to talk to some of these other organizations to try and you know determine exactly what that gap is, how big that gap is, and are there other organizations that are gonna step in and try and fill that," said Holden. 

Cooking in kitchen foreign for some newcomers

When Ranuka Subedi and her family moved to Regina four years ago, no one had ever used a stove. 

Ranuka Subedi (right) and her daughter Sirjana have learned to how to cook in a kitchen through the HELP program, after living in a Nepal refugee camp for 18 years. (CBC)

Lentils and rice cooked in a pot over a fire on the ground were the staples of the family diet for the 18 years it lived in a refugee camp in Nepal. 

Subedi's daughter Sirjana said without the classes from HELP her family would probably still would not know how to use the appliances in the home. 

"She would not learn," said Sirjana. "Like she would just cook rice and curry like how she used to cook." 

Now Sirjana and her mother bake muffins and cook all kinds of dishes together. 

"It's going to leave a huge hole in the community," said Stevens. "I don't know where the community clinic dietitian is going to send people for cooking classes."

Programs like HELP can prevent cooking disasters 

For some newcomers to Canada the kitchen can be a a foreign, but also a dangerous place. 

Smoke poured out of Regina townhouse units that caught fire in January. The cause of the fire was a cooking accident. (Roxanna Woloshyn/CBC)

A cooking accident destroyed a Regina townhouse last month and left the Afghan family that lived there homeless. 

Stevens has been offering cooking classes to new immigrants and refugees for the past 25 years. 

"People have come from places without an oven," said Stevens. "They're used to building a fire, and so they've actually built a fire in the oven, and then the landlord said that nobody can use  the oven." 

Stevens can't keep offering the same services she used to, but said cooking is still something newcomers need to know. 

"Having hands on knowledge, and having hands-on training in basic life skills, I think is really, really important," she said.

Stevens said there is no other group that provides all the training that HELP did.

She's found another way to offer the classes, but now non-profit groups such as the Open Door Society must raise the money to pay for them.