A new social enterprise program in St. John's aims to break down some of the barriers immigrant students face in their new homes.
The Impactful Gifts program teaches students aged 15 to 21 who are new to Newfoundland and Labrador the basics of financial literacy and computer skills. It also teaches them how to sew like pros.
Students from other countries are often at a disadvantage when it comes to developing job skills, says Lloydetta Quaicoe, the founder and CEO of Sharing our Cultures, the umbrella organization under which Impactful Gifts was developed.
By participating in the program, Quaicoe said, students get hands-on training, practical work experience and a sense of how to manage their money, as proceeds from bags the students sew are are returned to them.
But, Quaicoe said, the true purpose of Impactful Gifts is much more profound.
"Many times when they're new to a country, many people don't really know who they are, what their cultural identities are," she said.
"[The program] helps the local people get to know more about them. And it also helps them integrate into the community. So they have a sense of belonging and a sense of place where they are, because this is now home for them."
A safe place
Tajriyan Rahman knows first-hand the struggles new immigrants face. She moved to Canada 10 years ago from Bangladesh. Programs like Impactful Gifts, she says, can be a much-needed shock-absorber for newcomers struggling to integrate.
"When you come to a new place, it's often overwhelming," she said.
"You don't know whether you should really wholeheartedly express yourself. This program is a safe place for anyone to come into and really express yourself for who you really are."
Yasmin Alsherif of Syria says the program helps newcomers establish social ties, encourages them to celebrate their culture and instills a sense of confidence.
"Employment skills, work skills, sewing skills, partnership, meeting new friends," she said, "I learned a lot."
For Volonte Kabasele from Congo, Impactful Gifts provides a valuable opportunity for cultural immersion.
He appreciates having the opportunity to hear and speak English, he says, and to learn to decipher between different accents.
"I didn't have any experience talking to people," he said.
"But now, it has helped me to manage. I can talk to people. I'm happy because it taught me a lot that I didn't know."
Quaicoe said since the program's inception in the spring, students have created more than 200 bags.
She's excited to welcome a new cohort of students in September, and hopes the program will continue to support immigrant students far into the future.
"They'll go out into the community and some of them will become their own entrepreneurs," Quaicoe said.
"They've learned business skills. They have a trade they can do as well. So I'm hoping that, in the future, Impactful Gifts will impact hearts and change lives for our young people in this province."