Capilano University has helped learners in Vancouver’s poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside gain the basic skills they need to improve their lives for more than 20 years.
In partnership with the Carnegie Community Centre, Capilano University’s Community Development and Outreach department (CDO) runs the Carnegie Learning Centre in the Downtown Eastside with 55 volunteers. Instructors and volunteers help English language learners and those looking to upgrade literacy, numeracy and computer skills. They also provide assistance with urgent day-to-day tasks by treating them as learning opportunities. Lucy Alderson, instructor and project coordinator of the CDO, notes an individual must navigate 24 web pages before they can apply for income assistance, which can be particularly challenging to complete with limited English skills and only time-limited access to a public computer.
“Forty per cent of people in Canada have difficulty with basic literacy and numeracy and IT skills,” says Alderson. “It’s very easy for people to be left out.”
CDO also helps students to develop leadership skills and be counted. Learners chair meetings and record minutes, and volunteers prepare those who visit the Learning Centre to participate in the Canadian census and elections. The Learning Centre helps those participating in the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City (arts) Festival find their voice and assists area artists to access grants and promote their work.
The Carnegie Centre and Capilano University undertook a project in 2014 that resulted in a book called Invisible Heroes: Aboriginal Stories from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which highlights the resilience and contributions of Aboriginal community members and illuminates how historical Canadian policies have impacted Aboriginal peoples’ lives.
Together with community partners, Capilano University has made major contributions to learning in the Downtown Eastside while bringing expertise about community engagement in the inner city back to the University.
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