Immigrant experience tends to involve making connections on many fronts. Getting to know your neighbours and your surroundings are just a couple of examples on a long to-do list.
Connecting with neighbours has been a fruitful experience for Jodie Mak, youth program coordinator at S.U.C.C.E.S.S, the largest immigration services agency in Vancouver. It's yielded her much more than bigger and sweeter tomatoes in her backyard.
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"My backyard is sandwiched between my two neighbours who came from two very different parts of the world and speak very different languages, but who share the love of growing vegetables in their backyards," Mak said, admitting her produce-cultivation skills have benefitted hugely from the cross-pollination of ideas from neighbours on both sides of the fences. But there is more. Mak's backyard tomatoes have also brought her closer to her neighbours in a city that is infamous for low neighbourly contacts! (Vancouver Foundation's 2012 Metro Vancouver Survey — Connections and Engagement.) "Spending time out in the backyard has allowed me to share a physical space with my neighbours, and I have discovered that asking for gardening advice is a great icebreaker!"
Now, Mak is taking her connections a step further, by bringing her personal experience to work. She's coordinating youth leaders at the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. to bring the David Suzuki Foundation's Fall Family Challenge to the city's multicultural communities.
This is year two of DSF's Fall Family Challenge, a national campaign that has inspired thousands of Canadian youth and families to get closer to nature. According to the David Suzuki Foundation's Connecting Youth with Nature research released in 2012, 70 per cent of Canadian youth spend less than an hour outside each day.
This is a troubling trend. Numerous studies show that spending more time in nature not only benefits our physical and mental health, but is also good for the economy and environment. If you are from an immigrant background, connecting with nature also means a fresh way to connect with your neighbours and fellow citizens.
Research shows that young people who spend 15 minutes sitting in the woods instead of the city will experience significant drops in heart rate and salivary cortisol, a biomarker for stress. Children who spend time in nature have lower stress levels and better eyesight.
In short, spending more time in nature will make us healthier, happier, friendlier, smarter and, yes, more generous!
Young people aren't the only ones who benefit from connecting with nature. It applies to adults too! In 2011, over $42 billion was spent on treatment and support services for mental-health problems. Canadian employers lose an estimated $20 billion per year due to stress-related illnesses, which are the number one reason for sick leave. The situation for immigrants reflects this. Recent figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show about 29 per cent of immigrants reported having emotional problems and 16 per cent reported high levels of stress.
Imagine how much we can gain by starting our habit of connecting with nature at an early age. It is with this knowledge in mind that the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. youth leaders decided to join the David Suzuki Foundation's Fall Family Challenge.
The four-week Fall Family Challenge will kick off on September 16. S.U.C.C.E.S.S.'s youth leaders will participate, recruit and document the four weekly nature challenges, which fall under the following themes:
You in Nature/Biodiversity/Waste/Transportation
This is not the first time S.U.C.C.E.S.S.'s youth leaders have worked with the David Suzuki Foundation, but the scope and level of involvement in the DSF Fall Family Challenge are unprecedented. We hope the collaboration will help enhance appreciation of nature among youth leaders and their networks of friends and families, and strengthen their overall knowledge of environmental sustainability. After all, the lure of clean air, water and food are some of the main reasons why Canada remains a top destination for new immigrants. To ensure our healthy environment remains intact, the sooner we establish our nature habit the better. Join our Fall Family Challenge at getbackoutside.ca.
Check this link for our Chinese language Fall Family Challenge poster and feel free to spread the word!