The Shoe Project is a Toronto charity that provides writing and public speaking workshops for immigrant and refugee women. We spoke with Cordelia Tang, Managing Director, to find out more about them.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
The Shoe Project was founded in 2011 by Toronto novelist Katherine Govier. We provide writing and public speaking workshops for immigrant and refugee women to improve their English and leadership skills. Under the mentorship of senior Canadian writers, workshop participants each write a short piece of a memoir of their journey to, and integration in, Canada, using a pair of shoes as focus. Coached by theatrical professionals, participants then present their stories on stage. Newcomer women improve their communication skills and boost their confidence through engaging in the workshops. By holding public performances, we not only provide a platform for the newcomer women’s voices to be heard but invite the public to engage in cross-cultural dialogues and nurture empathy and understanding.
What problem does it aim to solve?
Women immigrants and refugees had to conquer huge barriers to start a new life and
career in Canada. English proficiency limitation, lack of North American education credentials and work experience and missing personal and professional networks all prevent them from contributing their talent to the community. Also, in some cases, family duties and cultural expectations confine newcomer women from seeking their path in Canada. The Shoe Project provides support in dealing with these issues.
During the pandemic, immigrant communities were disproportionately hit financially. Our workshop alumnae reported loss of employment and frustration as their communication skills in English declined with social isolation. They also felt the lack of a supportive network of friends and families more strongly than ever.
This is the time when our efforts are urgently needed. We have maintained our Toronto workshops in a hybrid format: in-person and online. The goal is to continue to connect immigrant women with mentors, artists and community members.
When did you start/join it?
I immigrated to Canada in 2011 and joined The Shoe Project’s Toronto workshop in 2013. After I graduated from the Master of Information program at the University of Toronto, I started working for The Shoe Project in 2019.
What made you want to get involved?
When I joined the workshop as a participant, my immediate goal was to improve my English writing skills for better performance at the workplace. I have joined the workshop 4 times, the maximum number of reps allowed by the program policy, and I discovered that the workshop experience has brought me so much more than just writing skills. I learned presentation skills. I made friends with fellow participants originally coming from all corners of the world. Listening to a variety of lived experiences broadened my horizon. I had a more profound understanding of what it means to live in a multicultural country such as Canada.
I feel grateful and lucky to be able to connect with senior Canadian artists and peer workshop participants from all corners of the world so now I am working for The Shoe Project, striving to get more newcomer women to join this wonderful program and make changes in their lives.
What was the situation like when you started?
When I joined The Shoe Project, there were only workshops in Toronto. Founder and workshop leader Katherine Govier met the group in the lunchroom at the Bata Shoe Museum for weekly sessions. The performance was a very small-scale presentation at the Bata Shoe Museum, accompanied by an exhibition of the shoes featured in the stories.
How has it changed since?
Now The Shoe Project has started workshops in 7 cities across Canada, including Toronto, Calgary, Canmore, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax, and Edmonton. And there will be workshops in the new chapter cities of Windsor and Brampton in 2022.
We have built up a repository of over 300 immigration stories written by 250 participants. We have held close to 40 performances in theatrical venues, such as George Ignatieff Theatre and Daniels Spectrum Theatre in Toronto.
What more needs to be done?
We are looking to bring The Shoe Project workshops to more communities for more newcomer women to benefit from the program.
Moreover, we just started a new initiative, Afghan Refugee Fund, to support Afghan newcomer women who had to evacuate after the Taliban takeover. The Shoe Project mentors and alumnae, some of whom had been refugees themselves, have stepped up to provide interpreting, ESL, settlement, and counselling services. We expect to see more Afghan newcomer women join our workshops across the country in the future.
How can our readers help?
Readers are welcome to support us by following us on Social media or donating on our website.
Do you have any events coming up?
Our Vancouver performances are coming up on Jan. 15 and 16, 2022. Calgary performance will be on Jan. 23, 2022.
The Toronto workshop has started in November 2021 and the performance of 12 newly crafted stories will be presented on stage at the end of April 2022. Performance announcement will be available at the Events section on our website.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
PENCanada — helping exiled and imprisoned writers around the world.