SFU student-community partnership creates local impact in Surrey
By Melissa Shaw
SFU psychology student Eunbee Baik struggled as a youth trying to learn English as a second language because she couldn’t find the resources she needed. She hopes a new program called CommuniCreate that she and a team of SFU students and alumni conceived will give others a better experience.
CommuniCreate helps newcomer and refugee youth in the Lower Mainland learn English. An award-winning project of the SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition, it was initially designed as a hands-on in-person learning experience. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team—including Baik, students Saba Fatemi and Rufaida Kheraj, and alumni Trisha Dulku and Ricky Lalli—needed to quickly pivot to a virtual program using Zoom.
That’s where strong community partners made the difference. Thanks to support from the DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, through its long-standing partnership with the SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre (TD-CEC), the program is off and running and is already making an impact.
“It’s great to see how our strong relationships with community partners like DIVERSEcity, developed over many years, allows us to collaborate to create a program that is really responsive and meaningful for newcomers to Surrey,” says Gretchen Ferguson, TD-CEC associate director, partnerships and programs.
Mike Lally, DIVERSEcity manager of youth programs, says newcomer youth are a growing demographic in B.C. and face unique challenges adjusting to life in Canada, including language barriers, trauma and a lack of community connections.
“In this time of COVID-19, these obstacles are amplified, and young newcomers are facing additional stress and isolation, impacting their mental wellbeing,” says Lally. “CommuniCreate will help build connection points for our youth to engage with others, feel confident to carry on a conversation in English, help them in their studies and in finding employment.”
CommuniCreate helps youth practice having conversations in English and learn vocabulary. The inaugural program includes 16 youth and 22 university volunteers, who serve as mentors and provide one-on-one language practice during breakout sessions. Newcomer youth learn English through fun activities including mock debates, movie discussions, presentations and role-playing scenarios such as making plans with friends or seeing the doctor.
DIVERSEcity staff identified and referred youth to participate in CommuniCreate and provided translation assistance as needed.
Kheraj, a student in the Faculty of Education, says the program is helping her gain teaching experience, and improving her leadership and interpersonal skills while enjoying moments of laughter.
“The joy and energy of the volunteers and the students motivates me to develop new activities to make the classes even more engaging,” she says. “It is very difficult to learn a second language—teachers need to have patience, empathy and encourage their students.”
CommuniCreate sessions are running until the third week of August and will be offered again weekly in the fall.