Community-level Training: Reflection from a Community Action Leader

Who doesn’t know that organizing and mobilizing a community is hard work? This already difficult task becomes even more difficult when the target audience is a community of individuals who are engaged in precarious employment. Precarious employment is a form of non-standard employment that denies employees their full rights, allowing for conditions of unstable work, low or minimum wages, poor working conditions, a lack of social benefits, and more. Additionally, precarious employment disallows individuals from having fixed work shifts. Thus, when organizing a Community Training Workshop on “Understanding Precarious Employment, Rights, and Civic Engagement”, many members of this community were unable to attend the workshop due to last-minute demanded changes to their work schedules by their employers. As this was the first workshop I was facilitating on the topic, I became frustrated after counting the low number of participants present. Unsure if some of the confirmed participants were just late, we waited a while to see if more participants joined, but we remained the same in numbers.

However, it didn’t take me long to realize that having a smaller number of participants attend is not all that bad… It has some advantages too. As soon as we began the workshop, I recognized that having a smaller workshop allows for more engagement in dialogue from participants. Participants were very active in sharing their experiences and thoughts regarding precarious work, allowing for commonalities to be found between participants’ experience even though they work in different employment sectors. Every participant experienced uncertainty in work shift hours, held a low or minimum-wage job, had no paid sick leave, no vacation leave, no job- security, and experienced discrimination. Participants understood the impact of precarious work on their health and discussed how they could communicate health issues induced or worsened by their precarious employment with their doctors. They also discussed how they could engage with the decent work and fair wage movement to raise their voice and influence policy.

Among many other critical discussions, one of the issues argued during the session was ‘equal pay for equal work’. This principle calls for policy changes that ensure temporary or part-time workers doing the same work as full-time permanent workers are paid equally. One participant questioned why employers should pay the same wage to temporary workers if temporary workers do not have same the responsibility and accountability as permanent workers. The most uniformed answer was that when employers recruit a temporary worker to complete the same work as a permanent worker, the employer expects the temporary worker to hold the same responsibility and accountability as well. Therefore, employers should pay the same wage to temporary workers as they pay permanent workers who complete similar work. Through further discussion, it became clear that it is newcomers who often fall victim to this inequitable, racist, and discriminatory practice.

All in all, participants of the workshop provided feedback that the information and material provided were useful to their interest to advocate for change at a policy-level. They were happy with the visual materials and the manner in which Maisah Syed and I organized and facilitated the workshop. In fact, it would be incomplete if I do not mention how much I enjoyed organizing the event. From managing schedules, ordering catering, and doing the appropriate research and preparation for this event, Maisah and I were able to share responsibilities as well as grow and learn through the process.

It is always a great initiative to train and motivate members of a community to fight for their own cause. The participants who attended this workshop proved yet again that through community mobilization to engage with policy makers and changers such as MPPs, change can be achieved. Today, I can happily report that our consolidated efforts with the community has contributed to changes to the current Employment Standards Act (2000), which would ensure that temporary help agency workers are paid equally to their permanent employee counterparts for completing the same work.

Written by Mohammad Sarker.
Mohammad Sarker is a Community Action Leader of Promoting Good Jobs Project of Access Alliance. He has written this paper to share his experience about the Training held at 90 Mornelle Court Community Hub, Scarborough on April 30, 2017.

Research Learning: a life-long asset

“We are waiting to get REB approval from Ryerson University”

My supervisor uttered those words on my first day working at a non-profit organization in Toronto. Had I not attended the Research Training for Community Action Leaders (CALs) organized by Access Alliance, I would have had to ask my supervisor what an REB is. I recently started working part-time at a non-profit organization on a research project, and due to my newly gained knowledge and experience with research ethics, methodology, data collection and analysis, I was able to walk into the experience with the utmost confidence. As an international development professional, I had participated in more than 30 training courses held in 9 countries, but I  found that this research training was especially exciting and unique due to its purpose, content, training method, and utilized materials.

The usability and relevance of content material can either make or break a training program or workshop. For adult learners and participants like me, content and its application were the most appealing aspects of the research training program at Access Alliance. Prior to enrolling in the program, I was keen to learn about the tenants of community-based research, particularly considering my experience as a Community Worker in the Training Program at George Brown College. Additionally, my previous work experience in different communities outside of Canada also motivated me to build on my skills and knowledge in relation to community-based research. Specifically, through this training, I found myself better understanding topics such as research design, methodology, data collection and analysis, report sharing, etc. I think it’s fair to say that I was motivated enough to attend every session, and I am now able to see the positive effects it has had on my ability to perform at my new position and my confidence in conducting research.

The method in which the training program was conducted was another appealing factor of the program as a whole. As a learner, I appreciate being engaged in the training in an interactive participatory manner. Facilitators utilized methods such as role play, small group discussions, chalk and talks, brain-storming activities, hands on exercises, and more to immerse CALs in the content of the program to facilitate the learning process. The duration of the program was also ideal: it was divided into sessions that were conducted over a period of several days, providing participants with an opportunity to consolidate the learning and reflect on their progress. Additionally, the program facilitators considered the engagement of CALs in other external activities when it came to scheduling and planning, making it easier for participants to attend.

In conclusion, contrary to popular opinion that only academics can conduct research, I am now confident enough to express that I too am a researcher. Before attending the Research Training, I received a manual titled ‘Everyone can do research: A plain language guide how to do research’. I was amazed by the title of this manual produced by Access Alliance, and as I started to read it prior to the program, I realized that Access Alliance kept its promise of a ‘plain language guide’. This manual along with the handouts provided during the training program are easy to understand and are useful materials to retain for future use.

I am thankful to Fatima, Nadia and Yogendra from Access Alliance for their excellent facilitation and for providing me with a learning opportunity that has proven to be a life-long asset.

Written by Mohammad Sarker.
Mohammed is a Community Action Leader of Promoting Good Jobs Project of Access Alliance. He has written this paper to share his experience about the Research Training held between November 2016 and March 2017.

“This country is totally different”: Addressing Mental Health Issues for Bangladeshi Immigrants  

Like in all communities, mental illness is an uncomfortable topic to talk about for Bangladeshis. There is a predominant belief that mental illness doesn’t touch us.  We look at the outside community and say mental illness is something that affects them, not us.

I think we need to reconsider this notion. According to a national survey carried out in Bangladesh, it’s estimated that about 16% of the population is affected by mental health problems. This is not very different from the 1 in 5 Canadians statistic we often hear about for mental illness.

Canada Fact Bangleshi Fact

Continue reading “This country is totally different”: Addressing Mental Health Issues for Bangladeshi Immigrants  

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