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ReNEW Partnership for Best Practice: Anthropology in Action in a Community-based Setting

By Stacy Lee Lockerbie PhD, Halley Silversides MILS, and Suzanne Goopy PhD, Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary

The Refugee and Newcomers Emotional Wellness (ReNEW) Partnership for Best Practice is a multi-disciplinary, multi-sited, and multi-lingual research project that explores the role that everyday experiences in a host society have on the emotional wellness of Canadian newcomers. This research project is a partnership project led by Dr. Suzanne Goopy (University of Calgary) and Dr. Cesar Suva (Calgary Immigrant Educational Society) and funded by Immigrant Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  The purpose of the study is to determine the ways in which every day experiences linked to early settling in a host society impact independently, or in combination with past experiences, the emotional wellness (for example, stress, coping abilities) of newcomers.  The over-arching aim of this partnered project is to identify the structural, rather than personal and psychological sources that may impact emotional wellness, and suggest practical and sustainable ways that Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) service providers in four major cities across the Canadian prairies, and their associated agencies, might be able to mitigate some of the causes or exacerbators which often see healthy stress turn into negative stress.

Research results will be applied to practical and purposeful community outcomes in the form of a research-based service delivery model. The model developed from this research seeks to positively impact the cultural practices of the immigrant serving agencies with the aim being to meet the needs of newcomers and support their emotional well-being as they transition into life in their host country.

The ReNEW team has assembled a collaborative team of anthropologists, interdisciplinary researchers from nursing, counselling psychology and medicine along with community partners to work at the intersection of theory and practice in publicly engaged and applied anthropology. The research is guided by the holistic approach of anthropology and deeply qualitative research methodologies that are regularly employed in both anthropology and nursing to better understand the experiences of newcomers in their context of their wellness and integration experiences. Our research is multi-sited with four sites in the Canadian prairies including: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Often, immigrant-serving agencies specialize in providing language, employment and settlement facilitation, however, as a first point of contact for many newcomers, teachers are also a trusted person that newcomers confide in. ESL teachers are frontline and highly engaged with some of the most vulnerable newcomers. As such, it’s an important place/space for providing services to support the resilience and emotional wellness needs of newcomers in Canada.

While anthropologists typically work alone, this research highlights the unique value that anthropologists bring to community-based research teams. For instance, the time spent ‘in the field’ is much longer for anthropologists than for other disciplines carrying out qualitative research. Rather than showing up, doing the required number of interviews and leaving, the ReNEW team spent a few weeks in each location ‘deeply hanging out.’ We had informal conversations with staff, newcomer students, and managers and observed the day-to-day activity of the language schools. Our researchers took fieldnotes to record some of these daily activities and the fieldnotes were used in our analysis. This anthropological approach to data collection allowed for a more holistic understanding of the daily challenges of the day-to-day lives of Newcomers. We also conducted fieldwork in the middle of winter in the Canadian Prairies which highlighted the huge impact of the extreme weather conditions for the emotional wellness of those newly arrived (<5 years) to Canada. As participant observers, we experienced the extreme weather conditions and the challenges the environment presented to well-being alongside our newcomer participants.

Collaboration with community partners is a deeply effective strategy in opening space for community transformation and social change. Our partners at the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society (CIES), like key informants in traditional anthropological fieldwork, are uniquely positioned to have key insights into the community and help us forge relationships with managers and teachers and to obtain access to LINC classrooms for research purposes. Their collaboration is key in conducting research that is grounded in the needs, issues and concerns of the community. This ongoing partnership between the immigrant-serving sector and the University of Calgary is informing the research design, data analysis and service delivery recommendations of the ReNEW study.  Both the perspectives from the front-line and the bigger worldview of anthropology operate in tandem to conduct socially and culturally meaningful research with huge potential for fostering social change and broad public conversations to include policy makers and government decision-makers.

Research Team: Suzanne Goopy*, Cesar Suva#, Stacy Lockerbie*, Halley Silversides*, Katerina Palova#, Alesia Au*, Andrew Estefan*, Anusha Kassan**, Turin Chowdhury***, Sahil Dhiman*, Mashrur Kazi*

*Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary

**Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

***Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

#Calgary Immigrant Educational Society

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