Imagine being a young girl immigrating to Canada.

Do you think you would experience culture shock? How long would it take for you to learn the language? Would you make friends? How long would it take you to feel at home in this new environment?

When everything around you feels foreign, sometimes the best thing you can do to feel connected is go exploring.

Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) provides services to newcomer and immigrant women and their families and helps them feel at home in their new country.

Project Footprint is the newest, and one of the most innovative, additions to CIWA’s settlement strategy to support newcomer and immigrant girls. The project empowers girls between the ages of 9 and 13 through activities related to protecting the environment, preserving our eco-system, and exploring the wilderness, all of which build self-confidence and leadership skills. With two afterschool programs and a mentorship component, this project has helped 30 girls connect with new plants, animals, hiking trails, and each other.

Many of the mentors involved in CIWA programs also understand what it feels like to be new to Canada. For example, one mentor was born in China and moved to Canada when she was two years old. She says that, despite living here for over a decade, she still faces discrimination from time to time. She also says she loves seeing the participants grow more and more confident about their culture and their gender. And she loves that the girls are not only learning about the environment, but they’re also stepping outside of society’s expectations of girls and expressing their true selves. She even sees many of them encouraging and empowering other girls around them.

Having the chance to explore Alberta’s wilderness is often not possible for many newcomers because of financial constraints, a lack of climate-specific attire, accessibility issues, a lack of transportation, and insufficient knowledge about the local area. The project is a chance for girls to experience the rewarding, inclusive benefits of exploring nature, and is also a chance for CIWA to position the wilderness as an important part of life in Canada.

In the first year of the project, CIWA explored composting, recycling, conservation, and wilderness skills. The girls were able to experience nature within their immediate communities, throughout the city, and even in Banff National Park. As a result, they’ve been able to connect with the natural environment, and foster a greater sense of belonging. Many have become passionate about the preservation and conservation of Canada’s natural landscape.

Everyone in Canada should have a chance to see some of the breathtaking natural wonders that surround us. Through this program, CIWA has created a way for newcomer and immigrant girls to access the same inspiring   forests, mountains, and trails as their peers.

Project Footprint is a current grantee of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, you can read more about it here

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