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Refugee Experience Series

Calgary Public Library

Innovation Leader: Carole Marion, Manager, Forest Lawn Library, carole.marion@calgarypubliclibrary.com

Problem Statement

The Greater Forest Lawn communities are among the most ethnically diverse and economically challenged in Calgary and an increasing number of Refugees from Sudan have been settling into the area. Agencies struggled to find meaningful ways to help Refugees settle and residents be more understanding and accepting of their new neighbours. As increasingly large numbers of Refugees used the Forest Lawn Library, the only free gathering place accessible to them, their impact on the branch was keenly felt; staff struggled to accommodate their needs and library customers also found it challenging to understand the Refugees’ unique situation and empathize with them.

Innovation

In 2008, the Forest Lawn Branch of CPL, in partnership with the City’s Community & Neighbourhood Services, East Area Office, Calgary Bridge Foundation’s In-School Settlement Program, and Calgary Catholic Immigration Society Foundation, started offering a series of programs for the general public. The United Nations Association of Canada–Calgary Chapter joined the planning team in 2010 to plan The Refugee Experience series, designed to help residents better understand the settlement process, empathize with the struggles and challenges facing Refugees, increase their acceptance of newcomers, and find ways to assist them in the settlement process.

Progress

To date, 12 programs have taken place with two more scheduled in spring 2011, on a variety of topics including: Adapting and Integrating Into a New Home, Challenges Facing Youth, The Refugee Claimant: Getting Past the Waiting Game, Acceptance Is Everyone’s Responsibility, Giving Back to their New Home, and The Power of Hope. More than 350 have attended these programs. In addition, in recognition of United Nations Day in October 2010, the series expanded to include A Taste of Cultures, a celebratory event focused on cultural displays with newcomers dressed in traditional costume, ethnic food, and performers showcasing their traditions. Two of these events have taken place to date, attracting over 1,000 people, and a third one will take place in October 2011. Evaluations completed by the audience reveal that many attend the programs regularly and travel from all parts of the city to attend; 75% of the audience consists of service providers who consider this series to be a valuable training opportunity in their work with Refugees.