Embracing Differences: Learning First-Hand from Cultural Ambassadors
In this issueEngage - Volume 12, Issue 1, Fall 2021
Building on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, in particular Call #63 to “build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect”, a unique program brings cultural ambassadors into classrooms, helping students connect directly with different cultures and add to their individual understanding of diversity.
Embracing Differences, a multi-year project coordinated by the Regina Multicultural Council, connects Grades 5-8 students in Regina Public and Regina Catholic School Divisions with cultural ambassadors from a diversity of backgrounds. Currently recognized as a one-of-a-kind program in Canada, the project's objective is “to build an integrated, socially cohesive society through building bridges to promote cultural understanding via participation, engaged learning, and relationship-based experiences with people from diverse backgrounds who would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet”.
The direct contact makes a difference.
“Students were able to tap into community resources, instead of finding information on the internet that may or may not be reliable; this program supports learning in the classroom, in the ambassador’s own voice, experience, and teachings about the culture,” explains Holly Paluck, Co-Chair, Regina Multicultural Council Embracing Differences Planning Committee. “It’s even more successful than we could have hoped or dreamed.”
According to Paluck, the project has grown each year, reaching almost 1,000 students in the first year. Now, in its third year, attendance has almost doubled, proving that there is a hunger for this kind of educational opportunity. The project currently works with ambassadors from First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Romanian, Chinese, East Indian, Pakistani, Ukrainian, German, and Turkish cultural backgrounds and continues to seek new ambassadors to meet the growing demand.
The program promotes understanding of each other, equality versus equity, complex issues around refugees and newcomers, First Peoples, and other cultures from around the globe, exposing participants to ideas they maybe haven’t thought of before. Cultural teachings are provided with an interactive activity, which provides a memorable way to engage with the culture.
“This changes the hearts, minds, and behaviours of students and teachers,” says Paluck, adding they also reach families when kids share their learnings at home. “It’s a far-reaching impact. Participants share how much they’ve learned or appreciated or things they didn’t know...it’s trying to reach and have that connection with one another in a community where we all feel safe and have the opportunity to thrive.”
She explains that providing authentic teachings from members of another cultural group helps to counter stereotypes and inaccuracies while promoting diversity and inclusion.
The pandemic required that Embracing Differences programming move online, but adapting to remote delivery, with live video conferencing and prefilmed content, was very successful.
The program currently receives federal funding from Heritage Canada, along with funding support from Sask Lotteries (via SaskCulture’s Multicultural Initiative Fund), Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan and the City of Regina.