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Arts-based research explores "Belonging and Exclusion" among immigrant women

Posted on November 18, 2022

Photograph of hands


A collaborative effort between researchers at the University of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Community College (VCC) set out to explore themes of belonging and exclusion among immigrant women. Over a series of workshops, researchers spoke with approximately 40 immigrant women who were forced or chose to leave their home country. The purpose of the research was to stimulate dialogue and expand knowledge and understanding of immigrant women’s experiences in Canada.

The result is a creative exhibition entitled "Images of Newcoming: A Photovoice Exhibition". The exhibit includes 40 photographs and quotes from the women about their experiences settling in Canada and is a powerful learning experience that helps build empathy among its audience.

“The Government of Canada approximates that 1.5 million newcomers to Canada are expected by 2025,” says Dr. Tanis Sawkins, project researcher and instructor in VCC’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program. “As researchers, we were interested in hearing the voices of women who are not typically represented in the mainstream media. We wanted to hear about their experiences as newcomers to Canada.”

The exhibit’s VCC opening was held on November 15 where the researchers and select project participants spoke about their experience participating in the project.

Vanera Yoshaj-Balaj was one of the women who participated in the workshops and spoke at the opening. She was forced to leave her home country with two small children during the Kosovo War.

“The experiences we share as immigrant women are similar,” recalls Vanera. “Some of the answers reminded me of my own experiences of exclusion, like unrecognized credentials from back home, or stigmatization because of my heavy accent.”

Other speakers at the opening included Kate Dickerson, VCC Vice President People Services, Dr. Amea Wilbur, project researcher and Associate Professor, Adult Education, University of the Fraser Valley, and Marcella Fuller, translator and workshop coordinator.

Going forward, Dr. Sawkins hopes these findings will inform the design of learning materials for VCC English as an Additional Language students. Says Dr. Sawkins, “I am interested in how these women’s experiences can inform my work as a LINC instructor and curriculum developer. It is incredibly brave of these women to share their experiences and it’s so important that their voices are heard.”

Photovoice project researchers and participants
From left: Dr. Tanis Sawkins, Vanera Yoshaj-Balaj, Marcella Fuller, Dr. Amea Wilbur.


Funding for this research project was through the University of the Fraser Valley. VCC’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee funded the opening event and exhibit at VCC which is showing now until November 24 at the college’s Broadway campus in the Building B event space.