East York Mirror
With a history of helping newcomers, WoodGreen Community Services shared its expertise with the Austrian State Secretary for Integration Thursday.
On his two-day visit to Canada recently, Sebastian Kurz met with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird before a short visit to WoodGreen’s Danforth Avenue offices.
One of Toronto’s largest social services organizations, WoodGreen has many programs to help newcomers including its five-year-old program for newcomer youth. In the last few decades Austria has seen the number of immigrants rise and it hasn’t implemented programming to help them integrate so Kurz and his delegation came to Canada to learn from its experience. “We have a lot of work to do. We had a lot of immigrants in the past few decades, but not a lot of work was done. We didn’t do much to foster the integration process so a secretary of integration office was created to do some work,” Kurz said.
Austria has a population of 8.5 million and 20 per cent of its people are immigrants; that number rises to 40 per cent in the capital of Vienna. Immigration has increased in recent years as Austria has a strong economy compared to most of Europe with an unemployment rate of just six per cent.
Each year 140,000 people immigrate to Austria.
“There are a lot of children who are very new (to Austria) and who have problems with the German language so we’re looking for new ideas to help these children get a good education,” he said in an interview. Kurz said 50 per cent of young people in Vienna were born outside the country.
His office was created 16 months ago and he said the situation has steadily gotten better, but they’re still looking for new ideas.
WoodGreen’s newcomer youth program sees on average more than 100 youth a month of whom 80 per cent have been in Canada less than three years with 40 per cent having arrived in the past year.
Anwesha Sen came to Canada from India with her family 13 months ago; she’s been a part of the program at WoodGreen for a year.
“There are ups and downs to being a newcomer,” she said. “(WoodGreen) has been a constant outside of my home family.”
Kurz spoke with Sen and several of the other youth who were at WoodGreen for its summer program. (Some even asked for the young politician’s autograph).
“It gave me a lot of confidence coming here and talking to people who have similar stories,” she said of the program.
Shaida Addetia, manager of settlement services, said when the program first started the staff would go into schools and try to make connections with local youth. They quickly learned students wouldn’t come to the program to speak with counsellors about issues they were experiencing, but if the program was organized around a variety of clubs or activities such as trips to the Royal Ontario Museum they would begin to attract youth who in turn would begin to trust the staff and open up.
“They forgot that they did not belong because they do belong here and then they start sharing,” Addetia said. “This is a safe place for them. They know this.”
They also have a homework club to help the youth with school and they help get youth involved in volunteering to foster citizenship.
It’s best practices such as these that Austrian officials wanted to learn about.
“We have learned you have to work hard to foster the integration process,” Kurz said. “It doesn’t happen by accident.”