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‘We help people overcome trauma by developing a sense of control over their lives’


By Claudia Civinini

The Pacific Immigrant Resource Society, a non-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping refugees in British Columbia, Canada, has recently piloted a programme for refugee women.
We spoke to the programme director, Dr Amea Wilbur, who has investigated how to make government funded language programmes more inclusive to people who have survived extremely difficult events.

‘There is not enough research teaching adults that have experienced trauma’, said Wilbur, who looked at the topic for her doctoral dissertation.

Canada has been welcoming a large number of refugees since 2015. The government has made free language classes available for them, but not everyone can attend. This is especially difficult for women.

‘Attendance requirements on government-funded classes are quite strict, and if people miss more than a certain number of classes they are asked to leave’, Amea said, ‘and there is a long wait for childcare. This makes it hard for women to attend’.

Also, some women don’t feel comfortable in a mixed-gender classroom, she added.

For this reason, the society has decided to pilot a new type of class, more flexible not only in its requirements but also in its curriculum. And just for women.

‘Some women have been in Canada for a long time and they have never been able to attend a language class. We have a student now, whose husband didn’t want her to go to a mixed class. She has been in Canada for nine years. This is an amazing opportunity for her’.

‘We have a bit of private funding for this class’, said Amea, ‘but we hope the government will step in.’
Beyond Amea, the team is composed of two teachers, two outreach workers and childcare workers. Offering childcare has improved women’s attendance. ‘Instructors are very flexible’, explained Amea.

The curriculum is also designed to fit the needs of refugee women, and not just in terms of language. ‘Whereas in government-funded classes the focus is on employment’, said Amea, ‘our curriculum is more responsive to our students’ needs. For example, we teach women’s health and self-care, we talk about parenting’.

Also, a lot of the women Amea and her collaborators teach are depressed. ‘We want to teach them how to express their feelings in English, how to talk to the doctor, to their friends. We focus our curriculum on helping people overcome trauma by developing a sense of control over their lives and making connections.’

The course now has between thirty to sixty women from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, China, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Amea is still researching the best practices to help adults who have experience trauma, and would welcome the collaboration of other professionals. To contact her: http://pirs.bc.ca/  

Pic courtesy: The Pacific Immigrant Resource Society