Immigrant Residents Are Giving Back to the Community
October 01, 2015

One of my favourite quotes is by an American anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  

Over the last year I have been fortunate to work with  a group of hard working individuals, striving to make a difference. The Surrey Immigrant Advisory Roundtable (IAR) is composed of 18 local immigrant and refugee residents who were selected to serve on the IAR based on their impressive community involvement either in Surrey or in their home countries.

The Surrey IAR is a part of the Surrey LIP project with the purpose of  bringing an authentic local immigrant voice to the Surrey LIP strategic planning processes, leading to the development of a Surrey Immigrant and Refugee Settlement Strategy. The ultimate goal of the Strategy is to make Surrey a more welcoming and inclusive community.  

Typically, advisory groups hold meetings where they listen to presentations, facilitate discussions and provide  feedback. The meetings are documented and minutes are produced for public record. Typically, these types of  groups undertake an advisory role. Not the Surrey Immigrant Advisory Roundtable ... They wanted to contribute not only by sharing their wisdom but by pursuing concrete actions that would make their community more welcoming. 

Walking the Talk 

Through consultations, the Surrey LIP has identified that Surrey residents would like to have more meaningful opportunities for Canadian born and immigrant residents to interact with each other and connect through  different cultures. Hence, the IAR group has applied and received public grants to organize an event that would provide such an opportunity. In May 2015, the group began organizing the Welcome to Surrey Centre Block Party.  

Leading by example 

The Block Party took place on September 25, 2015 at the Surrey City Hall Plaza and was attended by over 200 local residents. The group engaged over 12 community partners (many are members of the Surrey LIP Committee) to run fun activities and unique games aimed to introduce local residents to different languages and cultures, i.e. Say It In My Language, Guess the Flag Game, Learn Calligraphy, Try an Ethnic Costume and Take a Picture, Face and Henna painting etc. The group partnered with the City and arranged for City Hall tours which were attended by over 100 newcomers.  

Sharing the wealth 

While the group received public funding, every single dollar went to either buying food or paying for entertainment and small prizes. Over 400 slices of pizza and 400 samosas were served to residents in a neigbourhood with one of the highest immigrant and low income rates in Surrey. Two main prizes (free recreational memberships) were donated by a local private fitness club and the City. All members of the IAR and partners have volunteers over 500 hours to make the event a success. 

I am honoured to know all IAR members and inspired by their commitment and true love for Surrey. Everybody has chipped in. Monica and Magdalena did a lot of promotion among newcomers. It was Aydin’s birthday on September 25th but, as a member of the IAR, he came and helped out where he could. Wafa, Nina, Clementine and others  served food for hours. Faisal brought extra tents and led the Surrey LIP Wheel game along with Tuma who also organized the Costume and Henna Painting activities.

Robert led the “Say it in my language” and “Calligraphy” activities booth together with Yasin who was also the brains and the hands of the event. From setting up a dozen tents in the early afternoon, to fixing the music during the day, playing games with local kids, and cleaning up garbage when it was quite dark outside, Yasin showed true leadership and capacity to serve his community.  

Building Leadership Capacity 

While many of the IAR were involved, one member of the Surrey IAR was instrumental in organizing the event – Dongmei (Lily) Yang. She is truly an inspiration to all of us. Together with Wafa, Lily has applied to Neighbourhood Small Grants and got several other grants to pay for live entertainment, food and prizes. She was a key contact person with over 50 local businesses, city staff, community partners and volunteers, organized bi-weekly meetings and successfully submitted all the funding applications and permits to make this event happen.  

While the event itself was a great success what is more important is the “learning” that took place in the processes leading towards the event: funding / health permit/ City event applications, volunteer management, sponsorship solicitation, collaboration with community agencies  – all these are invaluable experiences that will build and enhance leadership capacity of local immigrant groups. 

By organizing the Welcome to Surrey Centre Block Party, Lily and other members of the Surrey IAR have reminded us why Canada is a great country and the role that immigrants have played in making Canada a compassionate and truly caring nation.  


Olga Shcherbyna

Surrey LIP Coordinator