Innovations in Integration Podcast

Transcript for Episode 1
Josefina Perez - Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre

SpeakerSpeaker’s Words
Josefina:As humans we have a natural capacity for compassion as well as for cruelty, and we can either emphasis the hatred, exclusion, or the suspicion, or we can work with the bodies of interdependence and equality of all human beings. And I thought that’s what we should be aiming in Community Connections. That’s how you build community.
Tyler:Welcome to “Innovations in Integration”, a new limited run podcast series from the Community Integration Network at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I’m your host, Tyler Paziuk, one of the coordinators here at CIN.

Being new to the sector, I thought it might be good to speak with some of the very interesting and creative people in our rich network of settlement and integration workers to learn more about how they think and work. At the same time, we thought it might be useful as someone actually doing this important work to hear about some of the innovative projects and programs your colleagues are working on. Whether you’ve been in it for a long time and are looking for some fresh inspiration, or like me, you’re new and excited to learn, we hope you’ll find the series useful.

For this episode I spoke with Josefina Perez, the Community Connections program coordinator at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. Last year, Josefina and her team rolled out a noteworthy initiative to help established Canadians get to know their new neighbors, while at the same time helping newcomers develop their public speaking and facilitation skills. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Josefina.

Josefina, thank you for agreeing to speak with me on our new Community Integration podcast. Maybe we’ll just start, if you don’t mind, just introducing yourself, your agency, and then we’ll just sort of take it from there.
Josefina:Yeah. Thank you. No problem. So, my name is Josefina Perez. I’m Community Connections program coordinator at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. So, our agency has been serving the Niagara region since 1968. We’re currently providing seven counseling services, language instructions, along with newcomers’ children care. We also provide job search workshop. And, of course, Community Connections program for adults and youth.
Tyler:Okay. Great. Now, maybe you want to just set the scene. Tell our listeners about the region, the context in which the agency’s operating, and in which newcomers to the region are finding themselves.
Josefina:So, most people, when you think about Niagara region, what comes to our mind is the beautiful falls. But this area is predominately agriculture. So, there is a lot of agricultural land. The area has been mainly populated by European Christian settlers that came after the second World War, and the fact that we’re so close to the border crosses United States, so that made our area in a space where many refugees, they cross and they settle in this Niagara area.

And also, because we are close to Toronto and Hamilton, that has had an impact in the demographics and the diversity of our local communities.

So, mainly over the last 20 years, we have seen an increasing number of newcomers from visible minority groups. In early 2000 through 2002-2003, we start to see people coming from Sudan, coming into from Latin America and crossing from United States. So, we have groups that they were not the traditional Europeans. Thus, pretty much we have seen a change in the demographics of our area.
Tyler:Okay. So, I guess on that point, maybe you can talk about what was happening in Niagara that made you feel like some kind of intervention was necessary to address that sort of context.
Josefina:We know that the influx of immigrants in Canada traditionally has been, immigrants tend to go towards the big cities. You see Toronto, you see Hamilton, and then immigrants’ groups for the most part would say they go unnoticed. But when you have an area that — just to say like a 80%-85% of the majority of the population is the European settlers, when you start to have visible minorities, we start to have conversations. Start to hear — it comes with our newcomers [science]. They come and start to tell us about anecdotes about their experience and their interaction with the police or at the schools, with their neighbors, because they can feel somehow, sometimes, some places majority has been very welcoming and nice and friendly, but there’s been some incidents that there were red flags. And we have seen that perhaps with the current political climate, it’s more outspoken.

So, it’s nice to start having the — during our conversation circles or in the classrooms, they were telling us things that were happening, and incidents and we said okay, we need to do something. And also, because on the other hand, we had the community, like the social service agencies, interacting now with newcomers. So, they also wanted to learn more about newcomers. And that’s perhaps what — we decided that we need to come up with an idea just to make sure that both sides of the community, newcomers and the host community, they learn from each other and talk to each other and connect.
Tyler:So, I understand that you were sort of getting requests from the community to provide more insight into I guess like cultural sensitivity training, things of this nature, but correct me if I have this wrong, but you only had funding to provide direct services to newcomers. So, how did you negotiate that issue?
Josefina:First, I have been with what is now Community Connections since 2006. So, I remember just sporadically hearing anecdotes from clients. So-and-so — you know what? We had some — this happened and we felt — we didn’t feel that we were welcome, so how can we find ways to connect? And then we knew that sometimes incidents happen without bad intention. Like it’s the fear or the no knowing, no understanding of a particular group.

So, when you get the education piece with a key component. And we had some groups that they came forward and they contacted us saying can you come and do cultural sensitivity training? And yes, we did at the beginning. We did a few. You know, we’re funded to provide services to newcomers, and for that we need to recruit volunteers. So, my way was to say okay, if I go to this agency, perhaps I can recruit volunteers.

So, we Tweet it, that culture sensitivity information to local faith groups, to social service agencies, by providing that information session/cultural sensitivity. And when we reported that we were doing that kind of services to the community, our settlement officers say okay, you need to provide direct services to newcomers. You’re not — our role is not to provide free cultural sensitivity training to community agencies. That’s when we start to be okay, we cannot do this anymore.

So, how can we tweak it so instead of being us, the staff in Community Connections to deliver that training, we bring along newcomers that can be the experts and the firsthand experience of their culture so they can answer any question that community stakeholders may have about their group. And that’s when we change it and we came up with the idea of this 4C Project.
Tyler:So, now that we have that sort of background, can you just tell us about the 4C Project, where did the idea come from, how’d we get off the ground?
Josefina:So, we position the opportunity just to have okay, how that we train our clients to have the knowledge first, okay? And then the facilitation of skills and the public speaking so they can just really talk about their own culture. And there was a grant by the province of Ontario with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in building capacity through the Multiculturalism Grant, and we just put forward this idea. Okay, we’re going to create a handbook oriented to newcomers. And they will have a tool that they will use to provide cultural sensitivity sessions.

We don’t expect to be a training, a formal training. We just want them to be empowered to be able to talk about their own culture and to understand key concepts [also] cultural competences and stereotypes and biases. And also, to reflect in their own ones. And that’s when we thought okay, we need to have these champions, Compassionate Cultural Competency Champions, for the community.
Tyler:Just maybe before we go too far into it, maybe we define some terms. So what, to your mind, is cultural competency? What does that entail? And then what is compassionate cultural competency? Why was compassionate an important part of it?
Josefina:The sense of the cultural competency that we wanted to allow our newcomers to reflect on is just to say we all have our own culture and the only way to have cultural competency is that ability that we can interact with other people from different cultures. And we knew that the key for that competency that we expected as newcomers, we expect the host community to be understanding and welcoming towards culture. But also, we saw the need of having newcomers to understand the Canadian culture.

So, having that competency going both ways, is the ability of both groups, the host community and the newcomer community to interact with each other.

The compassionate element is started once we — with the current climate [on] division of those people, if you don’t come to the middle ground to understand each other, to empathize, that’s the concept that we wanted just to bring forward. And to acknowledge that we all have different values and we have different upbringings and different cultures. And there is a space when we can all cohabitate and respect each other. And that was the compassionate element that we tried to bring in.

And it’s even the handbook, the first page of the handbook is started with a quote that says, “We, as humans, we have a natural capacity for compassion as well as for cruelty, and we can either emphasis the hatred, exclusion, or the suspicion, or we can work with the bodies of interdependence and equality of all human beings.” And I thought, that’s what we should be aiming in Community Connections. That’s how you build community.
Tyler:Yeah. Absolutely. No, I think you really nailed it.

You’ve kind of already spoken about this, but can you just talk a little bit about actually launching the first round of training last year? How did that come together?
Josefina:Okay. So, once we received the grant and then our handbook was developed, we went to the high levels of ESL and we spoke to the teachers and told them — can we start with the students and see if we can recruit some participants? And we explained the project. This is what we’re looking for. We’re looking to have people to be the champions of their own culture. We’re going to provide you the tools, but then we want you to come and help us facilitate information sessions that talk about cultural sensitivity with other groups that are different.

And we worked with that group. We started training actually during a weekend. And off we went. We put the call out in the community and facilitated three pilots that we offer to social service agencies. One was Community Care here in Niagara. There is a food bank and they’re volunteers. They wanted to have a training in cultural sensitivity, so we went there.

The other one was staff from the [indiscernible] education centers. We facilitated half a day sessions. So, we did activities in our new commerce [indiscernible] running activity with the staff of these centers.

And then we did another one with Brock University that actually opened a partnership with the School of Arts when they put together — with the anecdotes of the students of exclusion or some sort of incident of hatred or discrimination. They used that to prepare skits and then those students from the School of Art came to our center and performed. And then the audience was able to put feedback to fix the wrongdoings that affected the newcomers.

So, it was a learning process that we were learning and our newcomers were learning along with that. And the community out there was prepared to listen and learn with us.
Tyler:One thing that I was curious about, would the project have been different in some ways if it was staff delivering the training versus the newcomers delivering the training?
Josefina:I remember — I still have the email that I put forward to our settlement officer and the response that I received saying, like, nope. You are supposed to provide direct services only to newcomers. And I remember — because I knew that the need was there in the community, I dealt with that all the time when I was in meetings and people were asking me can you help us with this to train our volunteers? So, to come to one of the staff meetings to talk a little bit about cultural sensitivity so our staff is — has a better understanding of who the newcomers are and how can they learn more about their culture.

And I remember being upset in a way because I said if we want welcoming community, if we want the community to be welcoming towards newcomers, we need to give them the tools for them to understand and to satisfy that appetite for knowledge. Because we know that discrimination happens because of ignorance or no knowing the others, right? So, I remember being upset.

But then, you know what? It turn out to be much better because I’m not a so-called expert. I was always second guessing or trying to bring secondhand knowledge. Now with this initiative it’s much better because I bring along the firsthand knowledge of the culture. So, it’s more important, more valid, so I’m not speaking on behalf of a particular group. The group has their own voice.
Tyler:Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Maybe just specifically you can talk about the key components of the training. Like what it is that the participants are learning and what the training program looks like.
Josefina:Once we recruit a core group of six or eight newcomers, they would receive the training and then talk about the key [to their knowledge]. So, they really understand the different concepts around discrimination, exclusion. To reflect also in our own biases, actually, because even newcomers sometimes they bring along biases that they hold against different groups.

And how to solve problems in a collaborative way, because different cultures are going to collide. That’s part of life. But how do we find a common ground to understand each other?

We do some exercises about developing empathy. And also, we vested actually the history of Canadian — of what are the wrongdoings that’s been done in the past, too, and how do we move forward? How do we build alliances?

So, it’s trying to empower our newcomers to speak up, because often is the case that we cannot freeze our brain and said oh, I should not have said this or I should have said that. It’s getting those tools and building that confidence to address comments of exclusion and discrimination.
Tyler:I assume additionally, they would be learning a lot of hard skills. I’m guessing facilitation, presentation, those kinds of things as well?
Josefina:Yes. And actually, that’s the bonus. Our main interest, yes, is the cultural and building community and learning from each other. That dialogue that needs to happen in the world at the moment. But, well, for the certificate. And then we offer that they will have facilitation skills that they would learn. They will — so, public speaking in a safe space because within the group they will practice leadership skills.

And then perhaps the encouragement that perhaps they can apply to — they can put those skills in the curriculum if they need to have those skills. Actually, they’re all important to know for any job right now.

So, we are offered that opportunity, and I think the reference and the opportunity to volunteer and to be — to play the role in what it is to have this dialogue happening in our — and not only at that big community level, so they can talk to the neighbor because some of the anecdotes that we’ve received, it was just around the school, with the children, or within in the neighborhood. So, when we’re not there, how do they have the tools and the skills to address discrimination and exclusion incidents that they may happen? Or affected family members.

So, it was very empowering and that’s what we thought that it was the benefit of that to.
Tyler:So, what kind of feedback are you getting from the community or from the participants themselves?
Josefina:So, it’s been a year. Actually, since the [indiscernible], so it’s been really quick. The feedback was positive. The fear component was very important, too. But then if we can keep it going at the individual level where newcomers can also bring it to their own communities, that would be wonderful.

And that is our plan now. So, we’re going to try to recruit 6, 8, 10 participants. We’re making it one of the volunteer opportunities with our agency. So, we’re having that job description and it’s going to be one of the volunteer opportunities here in our center.
Tyler:Do you think that the 4C Project is something that other agencies in Ontario should be looking at doing? Do you see that it’s something that might be — that people can replicate? And do you mind sharing it with others?
Josefina:No, not at all. Actually, I will be happy to share the handbook with all the agencies that want to adapt it to their community. And to build into that. I mean, we know that there’s a potential to continue developing — to add in new things and to continue building into it. I do believe that this project is right on the — what Community Connections should be doing. Working with newcomers and working with the community. It’s a win-win situation the way I see it. We really use the wealth and the knowledge that our newcomers have and put it to work for the community. That’s how I see it. I don’t think that it’s that difficult if we make it part of our activities. At least if you have a Community Connections, you can have newcomers’ champions that can be offering this knowledge to the community.

I think it is the perfect fit to be honest. I don’t believe it’s that difficult. As I said, once you have the handbook the concepts are already there. It’s a workshop, it’s a sending out whatever form that you want to use, whatever works for your community, and then get the newcomers to buy into it. And they will because it’s providing a voice. That’s what the project is about. And I would be happy if it’s replicated.
Tyler:Yeah. It’s the kind framework that certainly everyone can learn a lot from and man, we’d all be better off for it, for sure.

Just can you just provide some tips maybe that you would offer to other agencies who might be interested in replicating the 4C Project. Just tips or things to sort of watch out for. That kind of stuff.
Josefina:I think I would say that to start with is just bring these uncomfortable topics, bring them to your conversation groups. Let’s talk about it because we tend to be afraid. First start training your volunteers to have these conversations, too. And to be also, in a way, champions of culture sensitivity and culture diversity.

Find allies in the community. I mean, try now. Everyone, once you have this conversation, everybody wants to really do the right thing and treat everybody with respect and dignity and without hurting anybody’s feelings, but we’re so afraid sometimes just to ask the questions because we don’t want to hurt anybody.

Then bring the topics to the conversation. And we have the topic of conversation for the conversation circle. So, for different activities.

And ask newcomers if they have had experiences. And I’m pretty sure that — once they feel comfortable and safe to talk, they’re going to tell you that they have incidents where they didn’t feel part of what is the community or the country. And let them know that there is an opportunity just to address that by becoming a champion, and different tools to speak about this. And that’s what I think it will be a good way.

Finalize, talk to — approach the ESL teachers. I’m sure that with the PBLA, the Portfolio Based Language Assessment, they will be happy to have this as part of the elements in that curriculum.

And the stories are the stories of newcomers. So, they will be — they’re right there. They have the potential to be a good fit.
Tyler:Yeah. Fantastic. If people ask us about the project, can I put them in touch with you? Would that be okay?
Josefina:I will be more than happy. The more the better. Yes. Definitely. I would be happy to help in any way.
Josefina:This is something that we need to get it out there in the community. And we have more and more conversation like this.
Tyler:Fantastic. I couldn’t agree more.
Tyler:And I think that other agencies in the network really appreciate the work that you’ve done to put this together and really get the ball rolling for everyone.
Josefina:If all Community Connections and actually all the agencies working for more welcoming communities, we can put our heads around this, I’m sure that we can develop a great piece of our program.
Tyler:Yeah. That would be fantastic. Okay. Thank you very much, Josefina. Really appreciate it.
Josefina:Thank you, Tyler. Thank you very much for having me.
Tyler:Big thanks to Josefina and the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. For more information on the 4C Project, please feel free to contact: and I’ll put you in touch with Josefina.

Thanks for listening to this episode of “Innovations in Integration” produced by the Community Integration Network, an IRCC funded initiative of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. For more information about CIN and our other professional development offerings, please visit: or email us:

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.