New photo project shows Halifax through eyes of newcomer families

·3 min read
One of the photos that is included in the newcomer family project led by the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre at MSVU. (Haley Ryan/CBC - image credit)
One of the photos that is included in the newcomer family project led by the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre at MSVU. (Haley Ryan/CBC - image credit)

A small sunflower in a colourful pot. Walking to school. A girl crossing the road with a pink backpack.

A new photo exhibit featuring children in scenes like these shows Halifax through the eyes of newcomer families, highlighting what they love and what's challenging about settling into a new country.

Led by the Early Childhood Collaborative Research Centre at Mount Saint Vincent University in partnership with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, eight families and six educators took photos for the project between April and September.

Participant Mahmood Nahjim attended the one-day exhibit showcase at the Emera Oval with his wife and three children on Saturday, taking a look at the photos alongside his own of Halifax city hall.

Nahjim, speaking Arabic through a translator, said he wanted to focus on the building, as it's a representation of justice and civic participation.


"I find that back in our country, people are afraid of governors, of ministers, of people in authority," said Nahjim, whose family moved to Halifax from Iraq about three and a half years ago.

"But the best thing that we found here in Canada is that when you speak with an ... MP or whatever, you feel like you're talking to your own brother."

While Nahjim said he thinks his children have "a very secure future" and he's not too worried about their success, immigrants like himself would be helped by having their qualifications and experiences accepted in Canada so they don't have to turn to menial jobs.

He also said that his children have more opportunities to learn English, and the language barrier for adults is another stumbling block to finding a job.

In general, Nahjim said his family loves Halifax's weather and friendly people — but one particular destination lured them back after moving away briefly.

"The reason why we came back from Ontario was the Central Library, actually. So this is where we spend our winter," Nahjim said.


The research team chose to use the photo method since it's a universal language for sharing perspectives, said Jessie-Lee McIsaac, principal investigator for the project and MSVU assistant professor.

There wasn't a lot of first-hand data about what newcomer families with young children are navigating, McIsaac said, so the project was born out of curiosity.

McIsaac said the research team heard how important it was to find children's programs where cultural diversity was respected and welcomed, and how vital friends and family were to helping families navigate accessing kid's programs and services.

She said the hope is that the project will show politicians and service providers how they can better support families by removing financial or logistical barriers, like transportation.


For Nahal Fakhari, project research co-ordinator, the subject has a special place in her heart. She and her family moved to Canada from Iran 10 years ago.

"We felt excluded, hopeless, and helpless many times. So hearing the voices of immigrants raising the same concerns was very important for me to hear that, and advocate for their experiences," she said.

Now that the showcase is over, McIsaac said the team hopes to display the exhibit at the Central Library sometime soon, and at any other schools or organizations that will have them.


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