Service is a path to more united communities

Service is a path to more united communities


Every week, a growing group of newcomers to Canada gather at the Wesbrook Welcome Centre at the University of British Columbia to learn words and concepts that help them think about how to contribute to their new community. This group is one of several across the Greater Vancouver Area (GVA) run by a volunteer facilitator, coordinated and supported by the Colibri Learning Foundation.

Colibri started its work in 2012 as a small group of friends dedicated themselves to learning more about the social reality of newcomers in the GVA. Following a process of learning about how to support newcomers, they quickly found that the form of an “English Corner” – a facilitator, a formally arranged space, a weekly theme on some aspect of community life, and activities planned by the group outside of the weekly meeting, was the most productive in helping newcomers overcome barriers to participation in community life.

Simon Grandy, Executive Director of Colibri, explained that when they investigated why people were coming to the English Corners, they found, overwhelmingly, that participants replied: “I come to make new friends”. By focusing on generating meaningful conversations and social action, Colibri’s English Corners have created spaces where service opens up a path to building closer-knit, harmonious communities.

Colibri’s approach is to systematize the development of the human resources required to help the English Corners flourish, and to facilitate the learning process that ensures the increasing efficacy of the program. The organization has grown well beyond the small group of friends that started this work five years ago, and it now has about 10 full-time and 15 part-time staff. It has retained its initial focus on empowering newcomers to participate in community life.

Colibri attributes its ability to grow in complexity while retaining its original purpose on its “transparent and evolving conceptual framework”. Some of the key concepts shared by Colibri on its website, inspired by principles of the Baha’i Faith, are that “the highest expression of an individual is to be a source of social good”, “a process of action must be informed by the consciousness of the oneness of humanity”, “justice guides collective decision-making and demands universal participation”, “human nature is both spiritual and material”, and that “knowledge is central to human existence”. These concepts shape not only their approach and methods but also the content of the English Corner conversation themes. For example, one week a group may look at collective decision-making, and another, they may reflect together on how they can each become a greater source of social good.

Far from just a place to increase language proficiency, Colibri’s English Corners have fostered community and social cohesion among diverse participants.