The Dual Role of a Heritage Based Community Organization

The Dual Role of a Heritage Based Community Organization

By Demaris Sibhatu

A heritage based community organization such as the ECAE has a dual role in its current framework within the Canadian backdrop. One of these roles is creating a support structure where its members are continuously supported by the knowledge, wisdom and valuable skills of the collective. For example, older members of the community pass on their wisdom to younger members; those who have lived in diaspora for a while provide their support to newcomers; the youth will provide support to the community as the engine that run it with their strength.

Community development is a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. We are often able to solve these problems when there is connectivity within the community as well as when our collective is willing to face these challenges together to address them. Thus noted, our Eritrean immigrant community faces various challenges that it will need to tackle. As new generations of Eritreans are added to its fold, the challenges morph and new set of skills are required to tackle them. Therefore, understanding our community organization’s current needs and that of its members is necessary.

A robust community organization brings people with different backgrounds and ideas, and celebrates what is common among them, while at the same time highlighting its diversity. This is the main principle of a heritage based community organization. Once its members recognize that they have this common identity and belonging, they work together for a common goal towards real community based growth. Thus put, one of the goals of the Eritrean Community Association of Edmonton (ECAE) is to create such an organization where all will fill welcome, where all can participate in its growth, and celebrate its achievements.

In a community organization where the support structure is strong, connectivity of that community strengthens. The people in that community become one and start to help each other in  their day-to-day life. If there is someone in a need of a job, there is a better chance of the same person getting a job quicker with the help of the members of that community. When hardships arise in life, it is easier to solve them as a community while helping each other, rather than trying to solve them as individuals. A collective gathers its strength from its diverse membership to address its challenges. Each person has a unique set of skills and strength, which she or he brings to the community organization.

The second role but a very important one at that is preserving our heritage and identify within the multicultural framework of Canada (but specifically to our place within the greater Edmontonian community). In a place where it is easy to feel misplaced and alone among so many other cultures, having an active community organization where our culture and history is always celebrated is key for a sense of harmony and belonging. The community organization allows us to have a better understanding of our heritage and the history of where we have come from.  Having a community organization and actively participating in it makes sure that the next generation and the generations after them are well aware of their heritage and their history. By understanding their culture, they will appreciate it; by appreciating it, they will want to care for it; by caring for it, they will help others appreciate it.  From this appreciation of one’s culture comes a thirst and the desire to learn about one’s heritage.

We Eritreans have diverse, bold and majestic cultures that should be passed on for the generations to come. It is easy to forget and ignore the values of our heritage here in the western hemisphere. However, having an active and vibrant Eritrean community organization, and being involved in that community is one of the tried and true strategies to keep our culture and our history alive in diaspora.

Once a heritage based community organization is structured as such, its dual purpose becomes cemented. Therefore, careful strategizing and organization of programs and projects that provide the support and the legacy framework for the community organization is important. The ECAE has realized the importance of its dual role and has designed (or is in the process of designing) programs to achieve it. So long as there is continued involvement of the organizations’ members in its activities, our programs, projects and resources may not be limited to those noted on the community organization’s webpage . Where there is a will, there is always a way.

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