“Everything we do as human beings is in relationship to something,” said Lewis Cardinal, in his address to those gathered at Islamic Family on Oct. 4. 

The event celebrated and reflected on the 12 years that the REACH Immigrant and Refugee Initiative (RIRI) has operated in the Edmonton newcomer community. 

Aimed at preventing family violence, relationships are the centrepiece for the RIRI project. 

REACH founded the project with the belief that if immigrants and refugees have access to culturally appropriate resources for information and support, they will be more likely to successfully address the stresses and pressures that can increase the risk of family violence. 

The project used a cultural navigator model to support newcomers in the context of their ethnocultural communities. Navigators gather information on community needs, issues, and priorities to create safe spaces for communities to share their experiences and access support from other newcomers. This led to the creation of workshops on topics the community itself requested. 

These cultural navigators were always hired from within the community they intended to serve. 

“The solutions have always come from the community from day one,” said Helen Rusich, director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at REACH Edmonton, who has been involved with the RIRI project the entire time. 

“People from the community know the language, culture, and what kinds of supports would really help,” said Rusich. 

Through this model, 10 different communities were engaged and 20 partner organizations collaborated to address the needs of the community as the community itself addressed them. 

“The partnerships have been tremendous,” said Rusich. “The community has been here and REACH is always willing to listen.”

In addition to providing supports on how to navigate the challenging emotional journey of settling in a new country, the project also gave community members support with navigating the bureaucracy that is a large part of the immigration process. 

“The partners walked the journey with us the whole time,” said Jan Fox, executive director at REACH Edmonton. “We need to acknowledge just how hard navigating systems can be.”

Joseph Luri, one of the project’s community navigators, spoke at the event.

“Relationships and marriage are a journey,” said Luri.

He talked about the pressures facing new immigrants to Canada including employment, trauma, and other stresses. 

This is why spaces for men to process their feelings are so important.  

Luri explained, “They’re meant to create spaces where you can vent, come back home, and then communicate sensibly.” 

“We have so much to learn about how to address our issues. We are equals, partners, and it was love that brought us together,” he said. “We are only human beings and we need each other.” 

Funding for the program is set to run out, and a request for continued support will go before Edmonton City Council in December. 

For more information about the RIRI project, visit reachedmonton.ca/initiatives/reach-immigrant-and-refugee-initiative/.