SFU students and alumni create program to aid ESL learning

CommuniCreate adapts to virtual learning due to COVID-19

PHOTO: Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

SFU students and alumni teamed up to create CommuniCreate, a program that supports immigrant and refugee youth aged 10–17 learn English, become involved in the community, and exercise life skills in a safe space under the guidance of SFU student mentors. Their curriculum was ready to launch as the COVID-19 pandemic forced British Columbia’s communities into lockdown. The program was adapted to virtual learning by student leaders and some of the founders of CommuniCreate, Saba Fatemi, Rufiada Kheraj, and Eunbee Baik. 

CommuniCreate’s bi-weekly meetings are now held on Zoom where an equal number of SFU student mentors and newcomer youth interact with each other. These meetings include roleplaying real life scenarios, interactive videos and worksheets, games, and one-on-one connection with a mentor. 

In an email statement given to The Peak, Eunbee Baik, Co-Founder and Program Coordinator, noted the “greatest benefit of this program is having the students work one-on-one with a volunteer.” Saba Fatemi agreed, stating that it “gives them a sense of community amidst [ . . . ] the disconnection of the world right now.” According to Fatemi, persevering through British Columbia’s pandemic restrictions was challenging, but they “couldn’t have done it without [the TD Community Engagement Centre].”

The program was created when Trisha Dulku, the Community Engagement Associate and partner in the CommuniCreate program, noted that “especially in Surrey, there’s a need for more English language learning services and programs that are fun [ . . . ] for youth specifically in that teen age range.” There were students arriving at welcome centres in Surrey, looking for free English learning support, but it was not readily available, according to Fatemi. She told The Peak that her, Kheraj, and Baik “recognized the value of having a free resource led by other people [their] own age.”

Dulku told The Peak that everything “was flipped on its head” and “there were discussions around delaying the launch of the program until it [could] be in person.” She also noted that it was due to the team’s eagerness that the program was able to begin this summer; they found that “every [obstacle] leads you to a new path and new potential.”

CommuniCreate will continue in the fall and welcome a new group of youth. In an email statement to The Peak, Rufiada Kheraj, a Co-Founder and Program Coordinator of CommuniCreate, said “I feel like my experiences with this program has given me the gift of true empathy for English language learners [ . . . ] we all need to make an effort and appreciate people who are learning.” Dulku noted that the program’s goal is to “remove any preconceived barriers or moments of stress that English language learners are often facing.” 

Volunteer applications for SFU student mentors to engage in this opportunity are planned to open soon. For more information on getting involved, students are encouraged to seek out the CommuniCreate website