Environmental programs help newcomers overcome barriers to eco-friendly lifestyle

By Russul Sahib

Posted on June 21, 2021
The world’s current climate crisis is one of the most talked about issues in the present day. As the consequences of climate change become more apparent and widely discussed, many organizations and environmental activists have taken it upon themselves to advocate for better care towards the environment. Many organizations and campaigns have focused on tackling bigger issues, such as keeping large bodies of water unpolluted or banning single-use plastics. Other individuals have instead decided to focus on lowering their individual impact on the environment by limiting driving and travelling, buying second-hand items to avoid waste, or even planting more trees in their communities.

For many people, taking these steps means finding information, tools, and resources that will help them transition into living an eco-friendly life. Yet, access to resources and information that educate and support people to make these positive changes to their life are not readily available for certain populations. One of these groups is recent immigrants.

There are many misconceptions about newcomers not being interested in or caring about environmental initiatives. However, a study conducted by Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services in 2018 showed that newcomers living in low-income areas in Toronto actually had strong knowledge and interest in environmental issues. 87 per cent of the survey’s respondents stated they were aware of the current issues affecting the environment. Despite the participants’ interest in environmental initiatives, costs, lack of green space, and language barriers all affected their ability to make more eco-friendly choices. For example, one surveyed participant stated that they were more likely to purchase plastic containers, as they were more durable and cheaper than glass. For newcomers with little extra money to spend, the high costs of eco-friendly products create huge barriers for an eco-friendly lifestyle. Lack of green space also prevented surveyed respondents living in rented houses or apartments from being able to grow their own food.

Yaneth Londono is the executive director at an organization called Links for Greener Learning (LGL), which helps newcomers in the Niagara region tackle these barriers to green living. The organization offers a variety of programs and workshops that help newcomers with different levels of environmental awareness, make positive changes to their lifestyle.

“We teach them about waste management, recycling, composting, water conservation, and energy conservation,” Londono said. “We do gardening workshops, and we also do cooking classes.”
planting trees
Londono said that many of the newcomers attending these programs and workshops are very interested in gardening and cooking. This is why the organization’s Growing Diversity Garden has played an essential role in offering newcomers a cheaper alternative to purchasing food from the grocery store. The community garden has grown to feed over 200 families and includes a variety of different produce used in cuisine from around the world.

“They have an opportunity to plant their own things [produce] because all of them have different backgrounds,” Londono said. “Whatever they like more, or they use more, that’s what they plant in the garden.”

Newcomers are also taught how to make good use of the produce they grow for the long winter months through food preservation workshops.

Aside from growing food, newcomers are also given opportunities to put their artistic skills to use by creating new fashion and jewellery pieces with used fabrics and materials. The project, which is called Eco-Chic, began as a way to allow skilled newcomer women to put their artistic talents to good use while also preventing more waste from clothes that are thrown away. The fabrics and jewellery pieces used are new but damaged and allow for these women to re-purpose and re-design them into brand new items for sale.

“They [newcomer women] used to be designers in their country, or they know how to sew or how to make jewellery. Basically, everything that is discarded from the stores gets donated to us, and we make new items with that,” Londono said.
young woman
Most importantly, the initiative provides these women with extra money to support themselves or their families.

“The people who participate in the project, they get paid for the items they make,” Londono said. “While they are learning the language, they can have an extra income to support their family.”

Seeing the motivation and commitment of newcomers in a variety of different programs and workshops, Londono said that oftentimes newcomers just need to learn more about the state of the environment and how they can help.

“In Canada, [environmental awareness is] more important than in other countries,” she said. “For example, here you have to recycle because if you don’t recycle properly, you are going to pay for that. When people start learning about these things, they start caring about the environment.”

Once newcomers become more familiar with what can be done to help the environment, Londono said many are eager to continue the work they have learnt.

“When they learn, they come to us and they want to learn more,” Londono said.

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