Stories from Newcomers to Canada: A Life-Writing Project Started by EAL and Adult Educators in BC!

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By Zahida Rahemtulla and Amea Wilbur

Using Life-Writing with Newcomers in the Classroom

Life-writing and narrative pedagogies are sites EAL instructors can explore with newcomers to Canada in the classroom, allowing for students to examine their backgrounds and find commonalities and community through shared life experiences. For many newcomers who were former writers, the opportunity of embarking on a narrative project offers a chance to explore the English language through the medium of creative nonfiction. 

The Stories from Newcomers to Canada Project

Stories from Newcomers to Canada is one such BC-based creative non-fiction initiative. Started by Adult Educators and EAL instructors, the program helps newcomers author their own stories of migration in a forthcoming book, Geographies of the Heart: Life writing from Newcomers to Canada

The project began in February 2020. The group had two meetings before Covid-19 hit in March, and then moved online. As a result, most of the writing process has taken place remotely via zoom, and the community has met regularly over this platform throughout the year. 

The stories from this community of newcomers represent the multiplicity and complexity of experiences that are often ignored in narratives of immigration and forced migration to Canada. Understanding a range of experiences is especially important in a media landscape which continues to struggle against presenting one single narrative as “the” story of immigration.

The Podcast: Hosted by UBC Centre for Migration Studies

Six of the authors from the forthcoming book are featured on the Global Migration Podcast, which is hosted by the UBC Centre for Migration Studies and was recently released online:

https://migration.ubc.ca/global-migration-podcast/season-2/episode-1

You can get a sense of the project and authors by listening to these short ~30 minute episodes featuring different themes on the topic of settlement and migration. 

Take a Listen!

Episodes 1-6 are currently on the website, with more episodes on the way! 

Episode 1: Stories about Gathering Stories is about how the project was started by Raymonde Tickner, Amea Wilbur, Zahida Rahemtulla and Kerry Johnson. Episode 2: Stories about Mentorship focuses on the experiences of two Kurdish newcomer writers, Ava Homa and Shanga Karim and the experiences of minority writers, and  Episode 3: In Stories about Exile and Displacement we hear from Albino Nyuol and Muhialdin Nyera Bakini about their exile from South Sudan. Episode 4: Stories of Risk looks at the experience of exiled journalists Akberet Beyene and Diary Xalid Marif from Eritrea and Iraq. Episode 5: Stories of Disruption focuses on the post-settlement experience of Malena Mokhovikova, and Episode 6: Stories of Belonging and Exclusion takes a closer look at ongoing experiences of discrimination faced by racialized newcomers with Camille McMillan-Rambharat. 

All episodes are hosted by Mohammed Alsaleh, acclaimed international speaker and advocate. 

These episodes will be an interesting listen for anyone interested in bringing narrative pedagogies and life-writing into their classrooms, migration, and the fantastic stories from newcomers all around us.

More Information on Stories from Newcomers to Canada

If you are interested in the broader life-writing project, you can learn more at our website: https://sntc.squarespace.com/

Biographies

Zahida Rahemtulla is an emerging writer and graduate student in Postcolonial Literature and Translation.  She has worked in Vancouver’s immigrant and refugee non-profit sector for several years in the area of housing, employment, and literacy. From 2017-2020, served as coordinator of The Shoe Project—a storytelling program for newcomer women coached by established Canadian authors. 

Amea Wilburis an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). She developed a trauma-informed English as an Additional Language (EAL) program at Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) that received national recognition. Amea speaks and writes on the topics of literacy and trauma, and co-authoredThe 6 Principles For Exemplary Teaching of English Learners.

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