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Newcomers invite you to hear their stories

October 16, 2020

South Central Post, Oct. 15,2020

by LORI PENNER

Newcomers across the region invite you to read all about their personal journeys in a new book created by the Pembina Valley Local Immigration Partner- ship (PVLIP).

The book “Hear my Story” is in- tended to connect cultures and com- munities by sharing stories about diversity. The colourful creation features the experiences of newcomers from Nigeria, Brazil, Poland, India, Bangladesh, Syria and Zimbabwe, detailing how they came to Canada and all the challenges they faced, and the successes they’ve experienced since they arrived.

PVLIP coordinator Elaine Burton Saindon says the idea for the project came about after most of the community events and awareness opportunities were cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols.

“This resulted in an opportunity to look into a digital format and cre- ate a video series of newcomer sto- ries that could be shared and used in multiple delivery formats to help raise awareness of diversity in the Pembina Valley.”

She says initially they intended the written content to simply be part of their records. “But through the process, we decided it would be awesome to make this more of an official gift to present to all the participants, as well. It turned into such a beautiful outcome, that we wanted to print enough of them so that everybody would be able to see it and read their stories.”

Saindon says they were able to hire two summer students, Dunixi Larrauri and Braedon Thiessen, to assist with interviews, record and edit videos, as well as create full- length written stories that could be available at South Central libraries, high schools, and for sale at local gift shops. The videos and stories repre- sent lived experiences from some youth, university students, families and young couples. “It was a dream team. We really focused on their experiences in Canada, and not so much the process. Their lived ex- periences here and what their chal- lenges, successes and dreams are.”

Fifteen participants were part of the seven videos that were reflected in the book. “We had an open invitation for volunteers and they were all really excited to be on board. They wanted to help others by sharing their personal experiences.”

The book was produced and printed by Page Print and designed by DG Inspired in Altona. “They did such a fabulous job. And to that, we added the puzzle piece images throughout the book. They repre- sent what our communities look like. Everyone has a connection, and by putting the pieces togeth- er, we all contribute to the success of our communities, whether it’s through helping somebody, being a volunteer, being a newcomer, or being a leader in the community,” Saindon says. “Everybody’s piece connects with other pieces to make the story complete.”

Being a part of the production was a joy for Greg and Paulina Chlosta. The couple left their busy lives in Poland four years ago, later settling in Altona. They feel the experiences they shared in the book might help other newcomers know that it’s okay to feel out of sorts in the beginning. “You find out soon that you are not alone, and there are many people who want to reach out to you, and there are many ways you can make connections in the community.”

PVLIP partners with other organizations, services and municipalities to connect and support newcomers across the Valley. About 125 cultures are represented in the Pembina Valley, with over a hundred new arrivals every year. “It’s all part of a larger story of where we came from. And I think that by welcoming new- comers from other cultures into our communities, we are adding value and pride as we come to know these remarkable people and their incredible journeys. We can say wow, they chose to live here? This is something to be proud of. And I think smaller communities can be incredibly enriched by the talents and the abilities that a variety of people can bring to your circle. I think we should have pride when we see diversity in our communities, which is something that will take us into the next century.”

She adds, “This book might be an ‘ah-ha’ moment for some people, who may have no idea that this is what has been happening in our region in the last several years. The participants are all so delighted with it. I wish I could permanently record their faces when they see it. Their hearts are always about giving back, and this is their way of doing just that.”

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