Interview with Koyali Burman: Community Engagement Officer and Kenia Gutierrez, Community Navigator, SVNH Refugee Claimant & Migrant Workers Empowerment Program
South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH) is a community-based organization that focuses on connecting people and strengthening the neighbourhoods in South Vancouver. It was started in February 1975 as the Fraserview Action Centre, located at 43rd and Victoria. In 1977 the centre moved to the current location at 6470 Victoria Drive (49th/Victoria). The organization is around 45 years old.
South Vancouver is comprised of several distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own local identity and flavour. Each neighbourhood has its own strength and character, so the Neighbourhood House created unique strategies to build neighbourhood identity and neighbourhood pride. Because each “hood within South Vancouver is special”. –
The Neighbourhood house serves residents from Sunset, Victoria-Fraserview, and Killarney-Champlain and River District communities. There are many satellite offices and services such as two adult daycare centers, childcare and preschools and community-based settlement services.
SVNH follows a ‘placed-based’ community development model so that all programs and services at SVNH are determined by conditions and needs of the people living within each community. Each year, over 7,000 individuals participate in their programs who are newcomers of various immigration status including claimants, and SVNH has a total of 77 staff and 600+ volunteers.
What is your organization’s purpose?
SVNH essentially provides a welcome to all in the community. It plays a leadership role in building healthy and engaged neighbourhoods in South Vancouver by connecting people and strengthening their capacity to create change. When you walk through the doors of SVNH, you find a unique and vibrant place where people can build their social connections by participating in wellness or cultural activities, or improve their personal capacity through volunteering, workshops, courses and employment counselling. The sense of belonging people develop at a neighbourhood house is enduring
What resources or services does your organization provide for refugee claimants?
A survey over the last 3-5 years shows that refugee claimants who have accessed programs at SVNH are mainly from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tanzania, Iran, Korea, China, and Vietnam.
SVNH programs and volunteer opportunities are all open to refugee claimants and they participate mainly for the social connections and employment skills development. Most popular are English language and computer skills development (ESL Conversation, Multicultural Women Peer Mentoring Group, Computer Classes) and individual services from settlement workers for their food support, referral to counselling services, and employment support. Many claimants also contact SVNH for housing, and the staff help with BC Housing Applications and housing searches.
Food security: SVNH offers a food distribution center for families which has been especially important during COVID. Families can pick up food on special days from different distribution points and they also deliver food to the most vulnerable.
Counselling: SVNH provides claimants with one-to-one counselling.
Social connection programs are extremely popular including support groups online, and childcare programs that are being offered when COVID restrictions allow.
What is an example of a success SVNH has had with refugee claimants?
Kenia came as a refugee from Mexico 11 years ago when there were very few services for refugee claimants. But her family accessed the SVNH food bank program as well as the Spanish Church where she volunteered. Through that connection Kenia connected to many more SVNH programs and eventually the opportunity to work for SVNH in the Migrant Worker Empowerment Circle just launched. She will be outreaching into the Spanish-speaking community and encouraging their involvement with the new South Vancouver Community Navigator’s program. Her family still volunteers with the Neighbourhood House and maintains regular contact with friends at the Spanish Church.
Is there anything else you would like to highlight?
There is a new upcoming South Vancouver Community Navigator’s program funded by the City of Vancouver which will focus on the issues of refugee claimants and migrant workers. Interested claimants will join a 6-week empowerment circle that will provide a safe place for diverse refugee claimants to share their challenges and opinions and receive various capacity building trainings and sessions. This special program will focus on creating a support group of refugee claimants in the south Vancouver area.
In subsequent phases there will be additional programs and resources provided to claimants through this program as well as funded research.
Learn more about South Vancouver Neighbourhood House at https://www.southvan.org/