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Collective Power in the Midst of Collective Unknowns

Common Threads visual
March 15, 2021

As we near the one-year mark of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to reflect on the ways we have shifted and adapted during this unusual time. In an era of social distancing, opportunities for social connectedness may feel limited and feelings of isolation, heightened. At the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness (SCSC), we hope to contribute to the collective action and conversation around fostering belonging and combating social isolation. 

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has affected us all, in some way or another. We also recognize the disproportionate effects that the pandemic has and continues to have on asylum seekers, migrants and newcomers to Canada.

Prior to the pandemic, and in collaboration with PRAIDA, MSF Urban Spaces and the YMCA Residence, our Welcome Sessions embraced newcomers staying at the YMCA Residence, having arrived in Montreal a few weeks prior. Unfortunately, due to border closures, a significantly reduced number of asylum seekers and newcomers are able to cross into Canada. In an attempt to adapt our Common Threads program to the current climate, we’ve expanded our Welcome Sessions to invite people beyond the scope of those who have recently arrived. 

While we hope that the borders will soon reopen, we have been pleasantly surprised by the engagement at our Welcome Sessions and the collective knowledge sharing that transpires throughout. We  now meet individuals who have recently arrived in Montreal and individuals who have been living in Montreal for some time. What began as a Welcome Session intended for our volunteers to assist newcomers, became a space for resource-sharing and collective care between participants themselves. Participants who have lived experiences as immigrants are quick to share tips and tricks, and resources they’ve benefited from themselves. 

Just last month, we hosted a themed Welcome Session, a new initiative intended to create spaces for conversation beyond the scope of resource-sharing. This themed session centered around food, a theme everyone could relate to enjoying. We talked about favorite recipes, meals and specialty grocery stores across Montreal. A wonderful mosaic of recipes was shared, among them: Nigerian okra stew, paté chinois (shepherd’s pie), tourtière (meat pie), pupusas and Colombian tamales. Not only was the conversation flavourful (pun intended), it demonstrated the richness of our diversity. 

We look forward to continuing our themed Welcome Sessions, with more topics on the way. We have two exciting sessions come March, one for parents of children aged 0-2 to come together and share their parenting experiences. Another, an informative session on how to access healthcare as an asylum seeker. Cultivating these spaces isn’t only about answering questions or sharing resources- these spaces can also help others feel a sense of belonging. 

In March 2011, ten years ago this week, a series of uprisings and brutal government crackdowns set in motion the start of the Syrian civil war – one of the longest and most devastating humanitarian crises of this century.

Today, a full decade after the start of the conflict, more than 10 million Syrians are still living as either refugees of internally displaced persons—denied the fundamental human right to have a place to call home.

In a new op-ed in the Globe and Mail by Kim Samuel argues that Canada has a responsibility to not only offer asylum to forced migrants from Syria and elsewhere, but also to help migrants to do deeper work of cultivating belonging and a place to call home.  In the article, she explores practical examples of what it means to create conditions where forced migrants feel respected and represented as part of the social fabric and civic life of the community and broader nation.

 1 CERDA. “Et les demandeurs d’asile? Les conséquences de la COVID-19.” CERDA, 1 October 2020,….pdf. Accessed 9 March 2021.