“Women have a lot in common, we all have a sense of family; we care about children and have a generosity of spirit.” Maryann Bird
The Pacific Immigrant Resource Society (PIRS) was born out of struggle, the absence of inclusion and a deep desire to acknowledge that immigrant women have a vital role to play in our communities. What started as a small project in 1975 with a few ESL teachers in the Vancouver-Chinese community, blossomed into a full-fledged non-profit organization, serving a large immigrant community across the Vancouver mainland with various projects. This was largely thanks to the dedicated efforts of two women, Beverly Nann, MSW and Maryann Bird, former Executive Director at PIRS.
At the second session of the Immigrant Women Networking Table (IWNT) on January 15, these inspirational women gave phenomenal speeches to a full room of captivated women from many cultures and walks of life.. The event was a huge success as participants clearly gelled,enjoyed networking and of course, the delicious Japanese food prepared by SachikoTsumoto, the lead volunteer for this event. Beverly and Maryann’s speeches explored our difficult past of race relations in this country and how the PIRS developed and continues to serve our community. Beverly spoke about the importance of multiculturalism, reminding that it is something we not should take for granted. Witnessing the hostile society her grandparents experienced as a child, she recognized the struggle and adversity that many others like her family had to face for being ‘different’ from others. PIRS, at its core, grew and developed out of Beverly’s concern for Chinese immigrants and the lack of support and understanding they received from the Vancouver community. Heavily inspired by her grandmother’s burden, Beverly wanted to pioneer a program that would help immigrants and newcomers to Vancouver find resources, new friends and social support. Beverly expressed her thanks for Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism as this has resulted in the success of PIRS and many other immigrant-serving agencies. However, we cannot be complacent as Canada’s multicultural landscape is always evolving and new challenges arise everyday. This highlights the importance of PIRS in its mission to develop and offer resources to support the changing needs of the immigrant population, and for this we are grateful! Especially for those of us who are bicultural, we must use this to our advantage and encourage others to be proud of their ethnic culture and Canadian identity.
Using a spool of thread, Maryann Bird, demonstrated the importance of connections, networking and its ability to turn dreams into reality. Her story with PIRS began when she started working as a childcare provider for Beverly’s Chinese Women’s Orientation Group. She would bring her four-year-old son to play with a group of Chinese kids at the school., aWhile she had felt the struggles of not sharing a common language, her son never complained. Her son gave her the subtle reminder that communication and understanding are not about speaking the same language, but about finding the similarities in the way we conduct our lives. Her son could not understand Chinese, but he still connected through actions, expressions, and gestures with the other kids and this was enough. Maryann highlighted her observation that all women have a great deal in common, regardless of culture, ethnicity, location, or any other label. All women share the bond of family – all women want to offer support, all women love and care for children, and all women want to engage with the very community that promises to keep her child safe and included.
With such a strong and supportive multicultural community in Vancouver, we acknowledge the support of staff, volunteers, and participants of PIRS and the impact this organization has had on our lives. We encourage other ethnic individuals to participate in Canadian society as our multicultural policies and realities have come a long way. As women who have thrived and engaged with other women and other cultures, we must continue to be courageous, take risks, and familiarize ourselves and others with various cultures in order to enrich our lives and our society. We hope you can help us in creating a safe and supportive space for immigrant and refugee women to meet new friends, network, and flourish not only as individuals, but also as a group.
Your attendance and feedback is highly appreciated especially in the beginning stages of our journey. We look forward to seeing you all again at the next session on February 11th, 2014 from 5:30–7:30 pm at Sunset Community Centre; 6810 Main Street, Vancouver – BC. The lovely Golnaz has volunteered to treat us with some Persian foods and snacks, so be sure to save some room for the treats she will have for us!