Democracy Talks Dispatches: Teaching past barriers

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Participation Wednesday, July 17, 2013 View Count = 1508

Democracy Talks Dispatches: Teaching past barriers

Marissa Lawrence is the BC coordinator of Samara’s Democracy Talks, and has done an amazing job traveling the province holding Democracy Talks events. You may remember our "Democracy Talks Dispatches" series from earlier this year. We're excited to continue on with some posts from BC! 

Now introducing…Alvaro Moreno 

As the Citizenship 101 Project Manager, Alvaro has over 25 years of experience in projects that address community and social change, popular education, planning and evaluation, community action research and participatory action research, both in Canada and abroad.

A bit of backstory:
Alvaro came from El Salvador as a refugee in 1985, and has been living in Victoria for almost 20 years now. He is the proud father of a 19 year-old daughter who wants to be a professional musician. In his free time, Alvaro enjoys playing the contrabass with a couple of local Latin bands, and taking photographs of anything that catches his eye.

Where we met:
In Victoria, at a Democracy Talks event at the Victoria Public Library.

What we talked about:
Newcomer citizenship education in Canada.

Alvaro first became aware of the Canadian political system when he was seeking assistance to bring his wife to Canada; in total they were separated for twenty-two months after he was forced to leave El Salvador. At the time, he was advised to speak to his MP, which he attempted to do, but doesn’t recall receiving a response.

“In any case, learning that there were Members of Parliament elected by citizens to represent citizens interests in the Canadian parliament sounded like a really good idea to me, coming from a country ruled by what I call “military democracies” since the early 1930s.”

From experience, he told us that he thinks that there are three barriers that prevent refugees, immigrants and newcomers from becoming politically engaged: newcomers are pre-occupied with making a living for themselves and their family members in Canada, and abroad; many newcomers come from corrupt political systems, and possibly have a cultural bias which prevents their participation; lastly, accessible opportunities for civic involvement are not made easily available by the Canadian system for newcomers to partake.

Delivered by the
Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, Alvaro is currently working on breaking down these barriers with the Citizen 101 pilot program, a high-quality 10-week curriculum on citizenship that helps better prepare newcomers for their citizenship test. This preparatory course offers group sessions and face-to-face learning interactions, allowing participants to participate in active discussions about ‘good citizenship’.

It was insightful and inspirational to talk with Alvaro and learn about the inclusive work that he and his team are doing to better introduce newcomers to our political system, as a key-aspect of Canadian citizenship. 

This year, as part of a program called Democracy Talks, Samara travelled across the country speaking to politically disengaged Canadians about the barriers they face to being politically active.

One point we heard over and over is that people lack political role models. Many don’t want to get involved because they feel that there is no one showing them the way in the political world. Even if they want to get involved, without political role models they don’t know how.

So this summer Samara is celebrating all the Everyday Political Citizens we know are out there. We hope, like this story about Alvaro, it will show a more human side to politics, and provide role models for all of us trying to figure out how to engage politically ourselves.

Do you know someone who fits the bill? Submit your nomination and give them the public kudos they deserve! 

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