Social isolation biggest challenge facing immigrants to P.E.I.

Mitch MacDonald
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Diversity consultant Thilak Tennekone, left, and newcomer Keyvan Ashenaei were two of the speakers during a public awareness session at Stratford Town Hall recently recognizing International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Both have experienced their share of barriers and support when first settling in P.E.I., with Tennekone immigrating from Sri Lanka in the early 1990s and Ashenaei immigrating from Kuwait in 2012.

Residents encouraged to reach out to newcomers, celebrate growing diversity on Island

STRATFORD – Many Canadians see the more visible barriers facing newcomers, from finding a job to the sheer logistics of settling into their unfamiliar surroundings.

However, diversity consultant Thilak Tennekone said there is a much more bothersome obstacle facing immigrants once they arrive in their new home.

That's the social isolation many of them feel while trying to adapt.

"We see all the other barriers. The social and cultural isolation is what we don't see.... But every immigrant experiences it every single day," said Tennekone, who experienced it personally in the early 1990s when he and his wife became the first Sri Lankan family to settle in P.E.I.

"The culture was completely different from our roots. So adapting into our new neighbourhood was the most difficult part. There were no other Islanders who spoke the same language as us."

Residents were encouraged to reach out to newcomers and celebrate the town's growing diversity during a public awareness session earlier this week at Stratford Town Hall.

The session was held to recognize the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Tennekone, who is chairman of the town's diversity and inclusion sub-committee and a diversity consultant for the province's public service commission, noted that some discrimination experienced by immigrants is unintentional.

"When we have no exposure to diverse cultural backgrounds and multiculturalism, we don't learn," he said. "That's why it's very important for us to organize this type of event... When we have diversity and inclusiveness in our day-to-day life, people wouldn't feel discriminated against."

The session also showed videos from the Faith Project, an endeavour by the National Film Board in Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

The two videos showed a young Cree woman and Muslim man speaking about their religious practices and the barriers of incorporating spirituality into their everyday lives.

he culture was completely different from our roots. So adapting into our new neighbourhood was the most difficult part. There were no other Islanders who spoke the same language as us. Thilak Tennekone, diversity consultant

The P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada also showed videos profiling some of its clients in the province.

Keyvan Ashenaei, who immigrated to P.E.I. in 2012, was the focus of one of the videos.

Ashenaei said he's seen much support from the Island community since immigrating from Kuwait in 2012.

He also spoke of his Baha'i faith and its celebration of diversity as being a cause of "love and harmony."

"As it is with music, where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect poem," he said.

Ashenaei also endorsed the role of education in overcoming discrimination.

"We need to educate our children with morals," he said. "I'm not talking about any particular religion to be studied in school, I'm talking about the virtues which all of us as humans believe in: compassion; truthfulness; kindness; justice and mercy. All of these will drive us towards unity and a respect for diversity."

Tennekone said he overcame some of the social barriers by volunteering within church groups, community organizations and multicultural associations.

He encouraged others to also reach out to immigrants and said that often too much of the focus is on them to adapt to the mainstream culture.

"We have a role to provide them with positive feedback to help make sure they're smoothly integrating into our community," he said. "As a municipality, we need more practices, programs, support and information to ensure we're always committed to combatting racial discrimination and to build a community that values our cultural mosaic of diversity."

Organizations: National Film Board, Canadian Race Relations Foundation, P.E.I. Association for Newcomers

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada, Iceland Kuwait

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • wayne k
    March 29, 2016 - 19:53

    Islanders are very easy going but the projected figures for immigration in 2016 is twice the pop. of PEI [305,000] We are underemployed ,rents are scarce and go up [supply and demand] Oh yes and terrified by the violence in other western countries. Wish it was not so but this is the last place a Canadian would go to find "work".

  • de udder guy
    March 26, 2016 - 10:01

    Once again even the "consultatn" gets it wrong. There should be no connection between multiculturalism and religion. Multiculturalism is about culture..and religion is about religion. Vastly different topics that get mashed together in order to satisfy the religious sheep.

  • Cromwell
    March 26, 2016 - 08:11

    Welcome to cultural markism at its very worst! The new politically-correct industry; 'Diversity Consultant' - guaranteed income for life, with an indexed pension. Why is it that only Western Christian countries are forced to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, which involves the forced entry of millions of migrants from Third-World countries, to the detriment of these countries (as a reality check, see what is happening in Western Europe and the UK). South Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea and China do not allow similar immigration, since they hold the opinion that this would destroy their own valued culture. I recognise that immigration to Canada is a necessity to future economic growth, but our current policies, which actively discriminate against educated white, Christian immigrants (only 10% of all annual immigrants fit these demographics), is entirely detrimental to economic growth, which leaves the only possible perceived benefit - increased population.

  • Cromwell
    March 26, 2016 - 08:05

    Welcome to cultural markism at its very worst! The new politically-correct industry; 'Diversity Consultant' - guaranteed income for life, with an indexed pension. Why is it that only Western Christian countries are forced to embrace diversity and multiculturalism, which involves the forced entry of millions of migrants from Third-World countries, to the detriment of these countries (as a reality check, see what is happening in Western Europe and the UK). South Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea and China do not allow similar immigration, since they hold the opinion that this would destroy their own valued culture. I recognise that immigration to Canada is a necessity to future economic growth, but our current policies, which actively discriminate against educated white, Christian immigrants (only 10% of all annual immigrants fit these demographics), is entirely detrimental to economic growth, which leaves the only possible perceived benefit - increased population.

  • Rubina
    March 25, 2016 - 20:04

    well, boo,hoo,hoo,hoo When I came to Canada 60 years ago, I did not speak a word of English, but set to work at any job I could find. Nobody greeted me with winter coats and boots and a furnished place to live and welfare money to boot. Refugees/migrants have now become an industry, feeding herds (diversity consultants etc.) of people 'who are doing well by doing good'. The taxpayers are being fleeced and money is wasted, that could be put to better use. I am not blaming the migrants, they are not asking for all this hand holding, but it is the politicians who want to buy votes, and if they can create a job as well fore a friend, that much the better. Politicians make me sick, as do all the hangers on in the Goodness Industry.

    • jill
      March 26, 2016 - 05:06

      Right on. And it is all about liberals getting the immigrant vote.

    • Mo
      March 28, 2016 - 14:35

      That's really ignorant. I believe when you came here 60 years ago, it was voluntary. These people mentioned did not ask to move here and most importantly have seen death more than you and your family ever will. Wait. Take a moment and ponder...how will it feel when you go to a new country not knowing what happened to half if not all of your immediate and extended family members who were lost during the war. PONDER and then talk about money which is their last concern. Tip: Switch on brain before switching on mouth. It's the liberals acting in the name of humanity on your sorry butt behalf.