“You move to this country and you are welcome to this program – this is a chance for everyone to build connections.” – Jumana Adamjee
When the Immigrant Welcome Centre’s Welcoming Communities Coalition launched a new Multicultural Family Swim program last fall, attendance was expected to be modest and grow from there as word spread.
Coalition Coordinator Julie Keumbehdjian was pleasantly surprised when 86 people registered and attended the first swim event in September 2022. In October, 92 people attended.
The swim series was developed in collaboration with the Comox Valley Regional District’s (CVRD) recreation department. It is a partnership that came about to address the challenge of isolation among immigrants and refugees in the Comox Valley. The Coalition has consistently heard through its research and forums that lack of social connection has been a barrier to feeling welcome in the community.
CVRD Manager of Recreation Programs Susan Bullock has provided the pool access free of charge for the swim events. The Immigrant Welcome Centre’s (IWC) settlement staff and School District 71 Multicultural Family Support Worker Joanne McKechnie shared the program with newcomer families. Thrifty Foods contributed a grant so that healthy snacks can be offered in a separate meeting room during the swim as an additional way of bringing families together.
Keumbehdjian sees the high level of interest as indicative of the need for opportunities for newcomers to connect, both with other newcomers and long-time residents of the community. The Coalition sent out a mid-year survey to attendees to get an idea of the impact the swim series has had on participating families.
- 73.7% of respondents said they met a new friend or acquaintance as a result of the event
- 42% said it introduced them to a new activity
- 42% said it made the pool more accessible to their family
- 95% said they would register again
- 42% said they have lived in the Valley for three years or less
Commented one respondent, “Thank you for giving us this awesome opportunity that otherwise would not happen because of finances.” Another respondent said, “My son loves to swim and we get to meet people from different cultures.”
The Multicultural Family Swim program has since continued under the direction of Jumana Adamjee, the IWC’s new coordinator for Courtenay’s International Family Recreation Program.
Adamjee says she wants newcomer families to know they are not alone. She says she asks herself, “How can I make it easier for them to be here? Sometimes it can take a while.”
Adamjee immigrated to Canada from Kenya as a child and knows the importance of making connections with others who have gone through similar experiences. “You get happy when you meet people from the same community,” she says.
She also thinks it is important for families to meet people from other cultures. She wants families to know that it doesn’t matter when you came to Canada, all are welcome at the swim.
“Some people have been here for 30 years and some are brand new and I tell them it doesn’t matter, it’s for everyone.”
The IWC’s Multicultural Family Swim program takes place the third Friday of the month and then takes a break in the summer. Newcomers can register for free on the IWC website under the Events calendar, or by making an appointment with a settlement staff at 250-338-6359.
This program is made possible through funding by the Province of B.C. and Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).