The Coalition of Manitoba Cultural Communities for Families (CMCCF) is training facilitators/convenors to lead meaningful engagements with their cultural communities.
The Community Engagement Facilitators/
Convenors program was born more than a year ago from the recognition that “one of the things the coalition is doing is facilitating events and engagements in communities and bringing communities together to dialogue on a range of issues,” says Steven Feldgaier, Community Engagement and Allies Facilitator of the CMCCF.
“To expand the scope of the facilitation, it would be helpful to provide opportunities for people in cultural communities to go through a brief training program to become CEFs. These would be folks who would facilitate ongoing events and engagements for the coalition,” he says.
The group held several training sessions during the past year and has subsequently facilitated several engagements within the community under the conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
All the participants are motivated by wanting to make life better for people in their community.
When Mihiret Kumbi and her husband moved to Winnipeg from Ethiopia, they didn’t expect to be surrounded by poverty.
“When I moved to Winnipeg, for the first four years, we used to live in inner-city — poverty I saw in downtown Winnipeg — didn’t expect such level of poverty in Canada,” Kumbi says.
While she already had a degree from Addis Ababa University and had worked with some disadvantaged groups in Ethiopia, she was inspired by the poverty she saw in downtown Winnipeg to complete her Bachelor of
Inner City Studies from the University of Winnipeg.
Kumbi relates how when she saw the level of poverty in Winnipeg especially amongst newcomers and Indigenous people, she felt that she needed to continue to serve and contribute her part for the community.
As coordinator of the Community Engagement Facilitators program, Kumbi prepares and delivers some of the training material for the other participants.
“When that training happens — gives me the opportunity to practice what I have learned
and contribute to my leadership abilities,” Kumbi says.
CMCCF is designed to engage the community and is ideally situated to encourage meaningful conversations on a range of important issues, she says. Kumbi also explained that for many newcomers having an organization like CMCCF which can support and train people within communities to be CEFs is an asset to many communities.
Alka Kumar taught literature at the University of Delhi before moving to Winnipeg, where she received her PhD in Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies from the University of Manitoba.
Now living in Toronto, Kumar is working with the Newcomer Students’ Association in a research and policy role.
The lived experience of immigrants like herself is “of integral importance” to Kumar and has motivated her to participate in the Community Engagement Facilitators program.
“For starters, how well can the capacity of communities and community members be further built, strengthened, how can we respect, and put aside our own assumptions” to work with people in the community, says Kumar.
“In my own work, how do we learn from what they actually need — what are different ways —
have to take a shaded approach — everyone brings unique skills and experience — how do we support them in being able to build their own resources and capacity so the expertise they bring can be manifested?” she asks.
With a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Emile Namwira worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with young people, refugees, soldiers, child soldiers, rape victims and AIDS patients.
When he felt his own life was in danger, he fled the political violence of his homeland for Canada in 2011, bringing his wife and five children to the country his brother already called home.
Namwira has been employed by New Directions, the St. Amant Centre and now the Sexual Education Resource Centre.
He is volunteering for the Community Engagement Facilitators program to give back to the community and broaden his Canadian experience.
“This is an opportunity to be helping people to understand some subjects relating to their own lives. I am full of knowledge that is not helping people right now. I am trying to be helpful to people as much as I can. How can I, with my knowledge, be a help to other people?” Namwira asks.
The virtual world that has opened up because of the pandemic includes Scotland, where Rhona Graham makes her home in Fife, an area located between Edinburgh and Dundee.
Graham worked for more than 30 years as a physiotherapist, moving up the ranks in the U.K.’s National Health Service. She was hooked by the management courses she took on facilitation and now, in semi-retirement, is volunteering to be a Community Engagement Facilitator in Manitoba.
“It seemed to be natural to me to use these skills — wanted to do that more — dialogue —conscious embodiment — paying attention to what’s happening physically, emotionally and viscerally, as well as what you’re thinking and reacting,” Graham says.
“Quite enlightening for me — started to move away from physiotherapy — more into facilitation and dialogue — on that journey,” she says.
Graham says she’s not quite sure why she feels a connection to Canada, but it may stem from her grandmother having visited Canada many years ago and her great aunt has moved here.
Feldgaier says that while the coalition’s priority is to develop capacity in cultural communities in
W innipeg and Manitoba, the Covid 19 restrictions have caused a shift to technology that means facilitators no longer have to live in Winnipeg to engage with people here. He went on to explain that as a result, people like Rhona in Scotland and Alka in Toronto bring their skills to the engagement process and “we feel we can benefit from their involvement”.
CMCCF Executive Director Martin Itzkow says other governmental and community research and engagement organizations can contract with the coalition to facilitate their own participatory action research projects. “Two-way mutual learning is our focus.”