Bilingualism on the rise

Graphic by Florence Yee

Organization Women on the Rise hosted a bazaar which aims to promote bilingualism in children

Women on the Rise held a Christmas bazaar to raise awareness and funds for their children’s programs that promote bilingualism at an early age on Nov. 26.

Women on the Rise was formed in the early 1990s and has since become an organization that empowers single mothers to return to school and the workforce while also preparing their children for early education, said executive director of Women on the Rise, Grace Campbell.

The organization offers several programs, including an early education program for children and a parenting program for mothers. “We see the community for what it is… and we also see the need. We realized we need more,” said Campbell. The money raised at the bazaar will go mainly to the early education program, which promotes bilingualism in children by teaching children to embrace their native language.

“We need the bazaar to really help our programs to improve and recognize that we’re doing more,” said Campbell. In the past, Women on the Rise has organized spaghetti suppers, pancake breakfasts and garage sales, but this was the first time they hosted a bazaar.

Many of the children who benefit from Women on the Rise’s early education program are from newly immigrated families, said Campbell. The children were born in Canada, but their parents are from other countries.

According to Campbell, Women on the Rise is looking to help new immigrant families with children between the ages of zero to five, otherwise known as the “sponge age.” During this time, children absorb a lot of information and the organization is looking to improve their language skills.

“The benefits of bilingualism are linked to children’s immediate personal lives but also linked to schooling, socioemotional development and globalization,” said Fred Genesee, a professor emeritus in McGill’s psychology department.

In Genesee’s article “At-risk Learners and Bilingualism: Is It a Good Idea?” he compares some of the advantages of raising and educating children bilingually. He found that “immigrant adolescents whose ethnic identities integrate and embrace both majority and minority cultures tend: to be more involved with both the majority and minority culture and to show higher levels of psychological and sociological adaptation.”

However, immigrant children who only speak the majority language and have little to no involvement with their ethnic group exhibit lower levels of adaption, according to the same article. This is similarly seen in those who isolate themselves from the majority culture by limiting their relationships to those within their ethnic peer groups.

“If community organizations like Women on the Rise get involved with having parents feel proud of who they are and proud of where they’re from, and have them transcend that to their child, then the child will feel and embrace the fact,” Campbell said. Their child education program is looking to not only teach language and culture, but also to teach children embrace and be proud of it.

These ideas have already been implemented into their programs. Mothers were asked to bring in books in their native language and read, not only to their sons and daughters, but all the children involved in the program. While some parents were surprised by the task, Women on the Rise wants to ensure that parents understand the importance of having pride in their culture and sharing that with their children.

These programs don’t stop with children—training will also be made available to teachers. Instead of prohibiting children from speaking in their own language, Women on the Rise hopes more teachers will ask the question, “What does that mean?”

“This will build a very good foundation for the child and by doing that it will give them confidence. Once they feel confident in who they are, it will help with their learnings,” said Campbell.

Women on the Rise was created at a time when many black women were having children at a young age and living on their own, said Campbell. “The social workers were out there, the nurses were out there but it seemed like [the mothers] were in isolation,” said Campbell.

Soon enough a small group was formed where women could socialize and learn more about each other. As it started to grow, it became an organization known as Black Women on the Rise. According to Campbell, although it was called “Black Women on the Rise,” it was not about race, but rather, on immigrant women living in isolation, and helping them become empowered and integrate into society.

In 2003, the organization dropped “Black” from their name to clarify they were seeking to give all women an opportunity to be a part of Women on the Rise, said Campbell. What began as a small program for young immigrant mothers has since developed into a non-profit offering physical, emotional and educational development programs and services.

For more information on Women on Rise and their fundraising events, visit their website.

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