Cultural navigators bridge barriers to information, services

Since July 2014, the REACH Immigrant and Refugee Initiative (RIRI) has been supporting newcomer serving agencies and communities in family violence prevention. The approach relies on 13 community leaders, known as cultural navigators.

Cultural navigators work in their own communities to build healthy families by addressing root causes of family violence and building networks of support.

“Navigators can make connections to the families because they are already in the community,” said Ann Nicolai, a project coordinator with RIRI. “These are natural leaders in the community and we support what they’re doing.”

Supporting the navigators may mean arranging speakers, venues, food or childcare.

Primarily, RIRI a family violence prevention initiative. Navigators will meet with their communities to discuss what healthy families look like and explore avenues to resolving issues or finding support.

“This program is responsive to the community’s needs because it’s responding to what they say their issues are,” said Ryan Valley, a community cordinator with RIRI. “The navigators bring the people together and they talk collectively about the challenges they’re facing and possible solutions.”

“The navigators have an understanding of the cultural context,” said Valley. “There isn’t a language barrier so they can make the messages resonate. They know if the message needs to come from a man, woman or some one from outside the community. They understand the cultural factors that can be leveraged to make the messages well-received.”

Navigators say the initiative has been a success because the coordinators are only helping to facilitate community sessions and are not making decisions about what the community needs.

“Navigators are becoming the go-to resource in their communities,” said Valley. “Community members who have come to multiple sessions are now helping the cultural navigators. They’re developing relationships and helping organize.”

Because navigators are paid to do this work full time, they’re able to ensure that the ongoing community support is there as the challenges communities are facing evolve.

“You can’t just go into a community with a message once. We all need ongoing support,” said Nicolai. “So they meet regularly and ask: ‘what’s been new? What can you change?’ It’s an ongoing interaction and the issues people are facing are always changing as children age and parents face new challenges.”

When communities have people they trust that can be turned to for help, incidents involving police and other agencies can be reduced.

Over time, building coping skills and helping communities learn how to deal with inter-personal challenges in a healthy way can prevent family violence.

“We know unresolved issues can lead to family violence,” said Nicolai. “So we’re building a network of support within the cultural community so if people have challenges they have somewhere to go. Navigators are building trusting relationships so people feel they can ask for help.”

The REACH Immigrant and Refugee Initiative (RIRI) includes 13 cultural navigators in various immigrant communities in Edmonton. Throughout 2016, REACH will be bringing you some of their stories, supporting positive change in their own communities.