With the amount of refugees coming to Canada, it’s no surprise some are having a tough time adjusting to the culture and the people. That’s why the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) is providing a monthly program called Grandma’s Kitchen.

The program is open to women 50 and older with any immigration status and provides a community for those who feel lost or alone in their new home country. Vandana Sharma is a youth and senior counsellor for CIWA and explains that while coming to Canada may solve some problems, it also opens a door for many others.

“For some of them it’s really hard because they don’t know the language,” says Sharma. “But the first step is coming to CIWA. It’s good for them and our services provide them with so many things including education.”

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Vandana Sharma runs the Grandma’s Kitchen sessions held at the Baitun Nur Mosque and the Genesis Centre both in northeast Calgary. “When I see these ladies that have no self-confidence, [and then they] are really happy to be involved in the community and society, I feel proud that I am a part of these groups,” explains Sharma. Photo by Justina Deardoff

Sharma provides one-on-one counselling for both seniors and youth, and explains seniors are generally the ones experiencing a more difficult transition than the youth.

“We feel proud that we empower them to see outside their home, that there is a world.” — Vandana Sharma

“If you see community wise, the immigrants, mainly the seniors, sometimes they are in difficult situations — sometimes they are not allowed to come out of the house,” says Sharma. “Even if they want to, they are not allowed.”

As of Jan. 29, 2017, 40,081 refugees have been welcomed to Canada through private sponsors and the Liberal government’s resettlement plan, which initially promised to resettle 25,000 refugees.

Threya Thabit, who recently arrived in Calgary explains that she wishes there were more programs that could help immigrants integrate into a new society and a new home.

“I feel like there is a big difference right now, connecting to the community,” explains Thabit. “I think if we have more programs like this, especially for new people who are still in the city, where they can find a real connection.”

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Threya Thabit heard about Grandma's Kitchen and decided to walk over to CIWA to see if she could volunteer. Her first time at Grandma’s Kitchen was this past January, where she has had the opportunity to socialize and participate in daily activities. Photo by Justina Deardoff

Though there are challenges that come with finding a home in a new country, there are difficulties CIWA makes an effort in providing.

“I mean, you have to start from somewhere, and you have to ask so you know where to start, otherwise, it’s very difficult,” says Thabit.

It is CIWA’s goal to help these individuals in a culturally sensitive way. A key aspect of their vision is to help women build self-esteem.

“When they increase their self-esteem, like okay, this is your country, and we talk about your responsibility and the rules and regulations and you can do this and nobody can stop this— letting them have awareness,” says Sharma, in regards to what the group teaches the women. “We feel proud that we empower them to see outside their home, that there is a world.”

Currently, Grandma’s Kitchen has an average of 10 to 15 clients. Prior to living in Calgary, Thabit lived in Ottawa, Ont., where she lived for 18 years. Both Thabit’s son and daughter live in Calgary and urged her to come join them, but she has found that she lost the human connection that she had built and maintained back in Ottawa.

“I miss Ottawa so much, I had more connections there. That was where I raised my kids, they grew up there, they finished university over there. They just moved to Calgary because they got jobs here,” says Thabit. “When I came here there was no connection, so I went back to Ontario for two months, [and] I came back again and I found that there was no connection. Everybody goes to work and you’re stuck at home with nothing to do in a city that you don’t know.”

That’s when she decided to walk over to CIWA and see if she could volunteer when she heard about Grandma’s Kitchen. Her first time at Grandma’s Kitchen was this past January.

“I get to socialize with people and you get to talk to people. It’s this connection. Because if you’re home, you’re just isolated.”

Manjeet Kaur is also an attendee of Grandma’s Kitchen. Originally from India, she lived with her daughter in Hong Kong for 28 years before coming to Calgary in 2000. She explains that though Calgary was different from the previous places she had lived, she didn’t have the same experience as others coming to a new country.

“[It] wasn’t hard coming to Calgary because I worked here. I worked in a bakery ... in Hong Kong I made radio, hairdryers, telephones, all the mechanicals,” says Kaur, who added she could no longer do mechanical work in Canada due to a thyroid problem.

But then, her coworkers began to lose their jobs. “They were crying, [so I said] that’s okay, I'll stay at home, don’t worry, I’ll take a layoff.”

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Mubarka Begum (left) and Harbhajan Kaur (right) joke during exercise time, which sends all the ladies into fits of laughter. The main languages spoken amongst the women are Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Ukrainian. Photo by Justina Deardoff

Now she attends Grandma’s Kitchen, where she spends three hours a month learning new recipes, making crafts for the community, participating in English lessons and even exercising.

“My hope is that every time, [there is] talking, laughing and enjoying,” says Kaur, in regards to the future of Grandma’s Kitchen.

For more information about CIWA and how to get involved, visit them at http://www.ciwa-online.com

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