On March 9th, 2020, The Corner, residents of St. James Town and community partners proudly celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). For over a century now, many countries around the world have been celebrating IWD every year on March 8th to celebrate achievements in the women’s rights movement.
No one would have imagined that the march of 15,000 women in New York City on March 8, 1908 – to demand better pay, shorter hours and voting rights – would evolve into a revolutionary International Women’s Day in 1911. The United Nations theme for IWD 2020 is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This platform was adopted in 1995 and is widely recognized as the most progressive plan of action for gender equality and women’s empowerment globally. This year’s theme invites the next generation of women and girls to advocate for women’s rights and lead the Beijing Declaration.
At the St. James Town event, to start us off, Toshiba Billings, a former SJT resident with a successful career in business development consulting, highlighted the importance of knowledge as power – sharing accessible and free online learning resources like Coursera, Google Digital Academy, Library app, Linkedin learning, Free MIT courses and Bank of America’s women entrepreneurial courses. Her talk garnered many nods when she said, “I believe in being the best version of you.”
The second speaker Kendra from Elizabeth Fry Society, shared the societal factors that push women into conflict with the law and criminal justice system, and shared work that they do to support women and non-binary people to create change and avoid conflict with the law. Abeba Abraham, a nurse and activist, got all ears when she painted the picture of her journey from being a part of the revolution for freedom in Eritrea to the inner mental and emotional battle she fought with herself about breaking cultural and social barriers around marriage. Loly Rico, a human rights activist, spoke about her own experience arriving as a refugee from El Salvador, and talked about how the FCJ Refugee Centre supports migrant workers and refugees. She highlighted precarious immigration status and how it makes women vulnerable to human trafficking and violence. She also shared how it is important to share our own stories of intersectionality and what we can do to support women with precarious status.
After the insightful and inspiring talks, the MCs, local residents Priyal and Khadijah, invited the audience to relish the multi-cuisine brunch, which included Sri Lankan and Congolese food and was prepared by the men of the SJT community, from residents to The Corner’s volunteers and employees. Attendees huddled to take some memorable photos at the photo booth with the hashtags #generationequality and #eachforequal, and then put their thoughts on gender equality on the Tree of Words that was put up on the wall. We had a long line up for the henna artist from the community, who left the people in awe with the beautiful henna patterns she made on their hands. The event ended with five participants winning raffle prizes, which included self-care baskets.
This internationally driven local event organized by the St. James Town community saw faces old and new, from residents to service providers, and was all about celebration, reflection, and action towards women’s empowerment.
Note of Appreciation from a Participant
Today was the second time that I attended the International Women’s day celebration at The Corner. If I were only to use one word to describe the celebration, it would be “WOW”.
The fine speakers certainly were inspirational, their presentations were not only informational and certainly motivational, but the subject matter appeared to be near and dear to the hearts of many of the multicultural attendees, especially those have recently arrived here.
The male chefs outdid themselves with their respective scrumptious, delectable, mouth-watering culinary delights and creations. The participants thoroughly enjoyed every morsel of food that was served. HATS OFF TO THE CHEFS!
Journeys of Unheard Heroes
Never give up
Khadijah is originally from Eritrea, now living in the St. James Town Community. She is a frequent volunteer and collaborator at The Corner.
Khadijah has lived in Canada for 37 years. When she arrived in Canada, she resided in the area of Moss Park. During this time, she volunteered with Toronto Community Housing for 15 years. While volunteering, she was taking care of and helping many of the area’s residents. In addition to this, Khadijah made many contributions, changes and improvements to the Toronto Community Housing service in her area.
From the mid-1990s to 2002 Khadijah worked at East York Employment Centre for Newcomers as an employment counsellor where she created and facilitated useful weekly workshops for newcomers. This was a non-profit program which she developed that turned out to be very successful. She reports that many newcomers obtained jobs through this program. The workshop taught skills such as networking, resume writing, self-esteem building, and interview techniques and even connected participants to job and educational placements.
Khadijah volunteers extensively with The Corner in order to support local residents. She has recently joined the St. James Town Ambassador Program where she will be an outreach ambassador for the St. James Town community. She joined the program because she wanted to reach out to those in the community who may be isolated or just need assistance. Khadijah believes outreach is very important because it gives vulnerable and struggling individuals knowledge and access to essential and helpful resources they otherwise might not have known about. She says that effective outreach requires one to be gentle, kind, patient and attentive. Khadijah believes that when performing outreach we have to empathize with the people we are trying to connect with. Khadijah states that outreach at The Corner requires dealing with vulnerable and struggling populations, so we must show that we are listening to their needs and concerns and we must always deliver on the promises we make during outreach.
Khadijah was part of the planning committee and was the Master of Ceremonies for The Corner’s recent International Women’s Day event. She got involved in this event because she wanted to show the women of the community the value and potential they possess. Many racialized, immigrant and minority women are often restricted to the domestic sphere of life and thus sometimes believe they have a lower status than that of men. Khadijah wanted to inspire these women and reveal to them that they are just as strong, capable and independent as men. When asked what gender equality meant to her, Khadijah responded that it is equality between men and women in areas and spheres that would have a material and tangible difference in people’s lives including education, pay, leadership, rights and positions of authority.
Khadijah also invited a guest speaker from Eritrea to speak at this event. She believed this was important as it brings awareness not only to the oppressive government operating in Eritrea, but also the severe human rights violations and abuse faced by women in the country. She believes that true change can only start with shedding light on the issues faced by those in Eritrea.
I am not alone
Olga lives in the St. James Town Community, she is a frequent volunteer and collaborator at The Corner.
Olga immigrated to Canada in 2019, she is originally from Moldova. She moved to Canada for a better future and life for her daughter and family. For the first month in the country, she and her family explored Toronto and their community of St. James Town. During this time, Olga met and befriended many residents of the community. Olga initially felt some culture shock living in this community, but as she and the residents opened up to one another it allowed her to feel comfortable with her environment. Additionally, many of the residents she befriended were from India, a culture and country she is very familiar with, as Olga herself spent 8 years living in Mumbai. This allowed her to become even closer with community members making her feel truly a part of her community. Some neighbours also gave her the advice to take advantage of the settlement services and resources found at The Corner.
She soon became involved with many of the events and projects taking place at The Corner. Just recently, Olga was part of the planning committee for The Corner’s International Women’s Day event. She was very excited to be a part of this committee. This was one of her first experiences seeing how the event planning process works at The Corner and how she can contribute to it. Olga was very happy to share her ideas regarding how the event should take place and these ideas were eventually incorporated into the event itself. One of these ideas was a photo booth where women could have their pictures taken in front of an artistic and vibrant backdrop that Olga helped to create. Olga believes that the beauty of planning events such as these is seeing participants happy and enjoying the event by giving 100% to realize the goals and efforts of the committee members. Olga was proud of the work she and her co-members put in for the Women’s Day event and felt accomplished when the event turned out to be a great success.
Olga also volunteered as an instructor for the youth math program at The Corner called “Fun with Numbers”. When she heard that help was needed with this program, she jumped at the opportunity. Olga had a great time engaging with and teaching children and believes the program also taught her some lessons. She learnt patience and to be very careful in the ways she gave information and taught the children. She believes that teachers have to realize the large responsibility they have in shaping the minds of children and thus have to be very careful in presenting and sharing information with them in a way that is conducive to present and future learning.
Olga is also a part of the Spring Gathering Outreach Ambassador program. Being a community ambassador was an opportunity that she felt great excitement to be a part of because it allowed her to connect with others in her community and for them to connect with her. The program, through its outreach initiatives, enables the community to come closer together and voice their concerns in a productive way. Olga believes that the program allows her and the larger St. James Town Community to connect with isolated and vulnerable residents and allows for community issues to be dealt with collaboratively by incorporating input from many residents.
Olga takes great pride and joy in volunteering. Despite her many other responsibilities, she commits time to dedicate herself to good deeds by volunteering and supporting her community. Olga says that the joy that comes from knowing you’re doing your best to help others makes volunteering worth the effort.
When she initially arrived in Canada, Olga sometimes felt very isolated and depressed as a new immigrant. However, she soon realized that it was way too early to give up and she urges other immigrants not to give up either. She advises them to get out and experience their community, meet other residents, discover federal, provincial and local resources and to actively join community centres and their programs.