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Cultivating community : a story of cross-cultural learning and empowerment in the downtown eastside of Vancouver Petersen, Marisol

Abstract

In multicultural cities such as Vancouver, high proportions of inner city residents and immigrants (including refugees, domestic care workers, and citizens for whom English is a foreign language) are, for various reasons, socially, economically, and politically excluded from the mainstream. In attempting to narrow the divide that separates those on the "outside" from those on the "inside" of society, the planning profession has become increasingly concerned with the idea of planning with, as opposed to for, marginalized individuals. This approach is most often referred to as "community-based" or "empowerment" planning. This thesis explores the role conversational English as a Second Language (ESL) can play in the empowerment planning process by analyzing the "ESL Summer Pilot Project" as a case study. Collaboratively planned and implemented with residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) who patronize the USC Learning Exchange, the story/case study reveals how a total of 19 DTES residents helped nearly 70 immigrants practice what they need to effectively integrate into society; that is a cultural understanding of the who, what, where, when, and most importantly, how questions relating to life in Canada, and the means to ask those questions conversational English. The story also reveals how, by taking a leadership role, these DTES residents were able to increase their sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, and capacity to make a difference in their own lives and communities. After situating the ESL Summer Pilot Project story in the empowerment planning literature, I based my analysis on my own observations and on those of the nine "ESL facilitators" who participated in the focus groups I led after the pilot had concluded in the summer of 2004. What I found was that the empowerment planning process involves, more than anything, the development of mutually trusting, mindful, and caring "planner-participant" relationships and eventually, "participant-participant" relationships, that rely on the continued use of cross-cultural dialogue (or, in this case, conversational ESL) in order to link people’s knowledge and love to action.

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