Focusing on what matters during the pandemic

You’ll notice that PIRS programs look a little different this fall. For one, we’re doing most of our work remotely.  All of our leadership and language classes are being delivered online for the fall. And we increased our 1-1 outreach support and launched an emergency food hub. 

What makes PIRS’ work so unique is our focus on relationships and access and we are working hard to maintain that. With everything moving online we know that participants may be feeling isolated, struggling financially, and having difficulty accessing online services. 

This spring we had a very big “AHA” moment when we realized staff was spending the greater part of the class helping participants get in.  Digital literacy refers to an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and compose clear information through writing and other media on various digital platforms. And our participants were struggling with digital literacy to get into our classes.

As PIRS pivoted programs to adjust to the reality of COVID19, staff conducted a needs assessment. Here’s a snapshot of what participants told us. We’ve included links to articles that show that these are not isolated cases.

Participants wanted to continue to learn English but they were feeling more anxious and stressed by the added load of unpaid care work. Family responsibilities like homeschooling school age and looking after younger children made it difficult to find time and a device to access online programming. Many missed the social opportunity that our regular PIRS programs provided them – that they could take a couple of hours to themselves while their children were looked after. According to a CTV news article, women living in poverty and ethnic and racial minorities suffered the largest economic impact due to increased household burdens during COVID-19 (CTV Jun 18 2020).

In addition, immigrant women are more likely to work in frontline caring fields, according to Canadian Women’s Foundation.  This means that in addition to facing greater risks at work, they are also at increased risk of gender-based violence, economic stress, increased burden of caregiving and housework, and reduced access to support services (Canadian Women’s Foundation).

Many are struggling financially to meet their family’s needs (healthy food, paying rent ranked high as current needs).  Many had lost their jobs and were struggling to access services as all government and most support programs moved online. According to Canadian Women’s Foundation, by April, 20% of recent immigrant women who had been employed in March were no longer employed, seven percentage points higher than among Canadian-born women, a result in part of their higher concentration in low-wage, short-tenured jobs (Canadian Women’s Foundation). 

We also learned that those participants with higher levels of English took to the online programs more easily and in fact, many prefer online programs to in-person programs where they need to travel.  But this was not true across the board. Lower level English learners struggled to access online Zoom classes, as digital literacy and access to devices and the internet is still a huge barrier for many. 

What you’ve read above is just an overview. Each PIRS participant is unique in their joys and struggles, in their needs and dreams. Our Outreach Support Team is working hard to make sure everyone receives the support they need during these challenging times. Here is how you too can help: