This past week the speak English Café at the working centre had a conversation on community. It is a diverse group of people who come from many different places all over the world and meet every Thursday evening. The one come thread that brings them together is a desire to improve their English. What follows is a summary of the conversations and insights brought about by the group.
Tell a story when you experienced community.
Since the group was made up of mostly recent immigrants, many people told stories of people and groups who helped them adjust to their new life in Kitchener. The core theme was this idea that community is experienced through help and beign helped.
Not everyone had such a positive experience of community when they came to the area. One participant noted that he was missing community, that despite his efforts to build friends, it seemed to elude him. Language was part of the barrier that hindered his ability to join a community. He also felt prejudice do to his nationality that caused people to put up walls against him joining the community.
The other thing that he noted was that unlike in his home country, there were not the same kind of routines that naturally created community. People went to work then they went straight back home, no tea breaks or any other chance for socializing.
Another common thread through the stories was the idea of doing things together, whether it was learning a language, volunteering in the community or dealing with a crisis.
What does community mean to you?
Once again common themes quickly emerged across the many different cultural backgrounds that were at the discussion. The first was this idea of people being a key part of any community. These people then shared a common purpose or theme that brought them together and caused them to look out for each other. This could be family, it could be neighbourhood or a hobby. People talked about how communities did things together, such as go to concerts or having potlucks. This helped build a sense of connection. Aiding each other was another theme that came up a lot.
To summarize the groups thoughts, community is where a group of people come together around a common theme, they build connections by doing things together and most importantly they look out for each other.
When have you experienced community?
This was an interesting question for the group. At the heart of it was this idea of belonging. This is of importance because the audience was made up of people who have all come to this country from somewhere else, and have all been confronted with the cultural and language barriers that come with this. Despite that, everyone commented that they had found a sense of belonging in their new home. Key days of celebration were noted as a key part of this: festivals, holidays, weddings. The key part of this is the idea of participating together with others. Others noted more everyday times when this happened, such as doing groceries or volunteering.
Why is community important to you?
Everyone noted that community was important for a multiple of different reasons. The first was the idea fo support and security. It is really hard to live on your own, being part of community allows us to more easily live our lives. Making a transition as big as moving from one culture to another is made easier when you are brought into a community. Many people emphasize that community wasn’t just important, it was necessary to our survival. Beyond surviving people talked about how community helps us learn and grow by hearing and sharing with each other, we teach each other. The last part that people talked about is that it is fun to be part of a community, you feel art of something bigger then yourself and your feel a sense of camaraderie with each other.
What are the challenges you see in your community?
Despite the many positives, this group all noted many challenges in their community. The first one they all noted was the language barrier that they experience. This is after all why they come to the speak English café. Beyond the language there is a challenge of a different culture, that pervades every aspect of our life. This can be everything from everyday etiquette to religion. Because of this difference, stereotypes are likely to emerge and many people talked about how others stereotypes of them challenged their ability to be part of the community.
Finding a job and just general financial challenges were also highlighted often. Because of this people would find themselves stringing many jobs together, and working long hours which hindered their ability to build and be part of a community.
Finally, many people mentioned how people seemed to be selfish and not interested in building community.
How can we build community?
There were many different ideas that came out of this question. A couple common themes bubbled to the surface. The first is time. To build community we need to make sure we set aside time to spend with each other and on a regular basis. More then simply time though it is energy. Building community is more then simply getting together and talking. To build it we need to work together on common projects, whether it is responding to tragedy or building something new or simply having a potluck. An interesting idea that came forward as well was the concept of surrender, that if we surrender, community is what naturally flows out.
Despite the different skill levels in language, this proved to be an very powerful discussion. One thing that was interesting to see was how the themes that were discussed transcended cultures and that there was a deep desire for this connection to each other.