Community Development

Funding level: Up to $50,000


Beyond The Conversation (BTC) is a unique project; not only does it provide immigrant seniors with the opportunity to learn conversational English free of charge, but it situates this learning within a broader vision of relationship building and community development. The skills, confidence and friendship that participants acquire from BTC has not only expanded their own horizons but strengthened the communities of which they are a part.

The idea for BTC was conceived by Metro Vancouver Alliance (MVA), an alliance of labor, faith and community groups and an organisation affiliated to Industrial Areas Foundation Canada. BTC was the result of numerous listening campaigns launched throughout MVA's member groups, bringing together hundreds of people to discuss the biggest problems facing their communities. Social Isolation was consistently recognized as a threat to the mental and physical wellbeing of Vancouverites.

A pilot phase of conversation english classes was initially scheduled on three different ability levels in four locations. Over the last year the classes have attracted over 50 facilitators and 200 participants from 10 different language groups. The success of BTC has far exceeded initial expectations; some elderly citizens take three buses just to attend, such is the intensity of the demand for conversational English classes and social interaction. After completing ten to twenty weeks of English conversation sessions, many participants reported that they felt happier, stronger, more confident and independent. They began meeting outside of their regular sessions, socializing with fellow students in cafes, or going out for lunch. The same group of people told us that before participating in BTC they felt lonely, depressed, inactive and just waiting for their death. BTC has therefore had a profound effect on all involved, including the volunteers who were trained in how to develop the curriculum.

Ruth, a facilitator said, “I am 89 years old and my husband passed away six years ago, a year after his passing I lost my only sister from cancer and I felt so alone. I heard an English Conversation class for immigrant seniors was starting so I signed up to become a facilitator. I was paired with another facilitator, Anne and we became friends. Today, I have purpose in life and I love it! I also became friends with the participants and it’s nice that I can contribute in a small way into the lives of people.”

Amy, one of the participants explained the difference the classes had made to her. “Before I’m afraid to talk and say 'hi' to my neighbors. Because of my teachers, I said hello and me and the neighbor will go for coffee.”

With Aviva's support, our vision is to extend this program beyond the boundaries of South Vancouver, starting up classes all over the city. We also aim to broaden the participation the classes, welcoming participants of all ages as well as newly arrived refugees, helping to forge community relationships across generational divides. Funding from Aviva would enable us to expand not only the number of locations that we can host classes but also the variety. It would also go towards the purchasing of 'pop up' teaching kits - we expect to utilize the space of MVA's member groups to host these classes, however, many of the spaces, such as church halls do not have the necessary equipment and we will therefore have to provide it ourselves. We also hope to be able arrange field trips for participants - allowing their learning and friendships to be nourished in settings that they are unlikely to experience otherwise.

Our conversational English classes not only inspire confidence and independence, and thus a lifeline to vital services, but also new and even unlikely friendships. We therefore believe that BTC not only fills a vital gap in the social fabric of Vancouver but also helps to reweave it in a stronger and more sustainable way.

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Industrial Areas Foundation Canada

Location: Vancouver