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Problem solvers, Change-makers, and Youth Involvement

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

How Sunder Singh and the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women solves Toronto’s Socio-Economic Crises


New immigrants, a city full of economic turmoil, and a never-ending wave of domestic violence. Yet, there are always those fighting the tide, helping the many in need, and ensuring Toronto’s persistent socio-economic problems remain manageable.


We were able to have a chat with the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women’s (EHCW) Executive Director, Sunder Singh, and together, we outlined some of Toronto’s most pressing concerns, discussing matters such as the immigrant education crisis, overworked charities and help-centres, as well as the ineradicable problem of domestic violence.

Pictured: EHCW Staff


Started in 1992, the EHCW, named after social justice worker Elspeth Heyworth, strives to create an equal world, with equitable opportunities for women and girls, as well as mitigating the ongoing immigrant calamity.


Lost and Stranded


“International students are coming by the hundreds and thousands every year”, Singh stated, “it helps the economy in a very strong way.”


The country’s economic potential has definitely increased, with an addition to the workforce, yet it isn’t always so simple: These students are often misguided, and struggle to find work and accommodation off-campus. According to studies from the Canadian Bureau for International Education, out of 807,750 Canadian international students in 2022, an unsettling majority face discrimination, rent gouging, and sexual harassment.


“They felt stranded and lost”, Singh stated, “they received guidance from their home country and by consultants who were paid.”


Students from India, China, the Middle East, and many other parts of Asia arrive in Canada with the hopes of greater exposure, and increased career opportunities, yet that isn’t the case:


“When students arrived here they struggled, they came to EHCW seeking employment. For some of the international students we were able to connect with employers, but it’s not our job to tell employers to hire them, we just make requests. Some very competent students, and they have useful skill sets.”


Their lack of employment not only leads to a housing crisis, but even with housing, these students were unable to keep a roof over their heads for a long period of time.


“They had difficulty paying rent - no job, no income, and they relied on their parents to send them money.“


Sunder Singh’s work with the EHCW is monumental in this day and age, yet she believes that these international student struggles are warranted with the challenge of relocation.


“[There’s] nothing but struggle with international students, they must remain on path, finish their studies,” she remarked, “settling in another country is always a struggle, regardless of age or position.”


The EHCW attempts to hire international students, whenever they are able to, in hopes of helping them gain income for their basic necessities, and they also connect them with employers and their 40 partner agencies. EHCW sits on Focus Rexdale and Focus Black Creek tables to handle high risk cases.


“Anybody who comes here for help, they are never denied help. One life at a time, we try to make a difference”


One Case a Day Keeps Domestic Violence at Bay


In our continued discussion, the issue of domestic violence arose. An ever growing issue within the metropolis, the EHCW believes it cannot be eradicated in one fell swoop.


“Newcomers who come here, they bring a notion, that they have the authority to control women,” Singh said, “Patriarchal assumptions lead to many of these cases not even being reported. In Toronto, it’s a huge, huge issue, and if an organization comes in and states that they’ll remove all domestic violence, I’d say it isn't possible.”


“These women endure this unreported violence for 10-15 years, and on average, we look at 1 case every day.”


Yet, the organization can’t intentionally step in, nor will they intervene without the woman’s permission.


“We give women information, and they have to make informed decisions themselves, and once they make a decision, we give them safety tools, victims services, and we provide strong emotional support.”


The issue with this leads to the children being negatively affected, and court separations get complicated. In 2020, 42933 divorces were granted in Canada, yet only a very small portion of these divorces were granted to refugees/immigrants. They face large amounts of stigma regarding divorce, inadvertently making them endure unhealthy domestic relationships.


Another factor to note are the possible children involved.


“Children are small, the case may get very complicated,” Singh voiced, “this is what they will be facing.”

Pictured: The EHCW provides multiple services for children, such as classes in dance, and the arts


A Helping Hand


In combat against these sprawling socio-economic crises, many of these charities and community service organizations need extra labor.


“The biggest challenge with all this logistically is that the staff is working at full capacity, but the number of clients keeps increasing.”


“The staff cannot deny help, and we’re extremely busy,” Singh stated, “we could have 2 more full time staff, and we’d still be working till capacity.”


“It’s difficult, but we try to prioritize calm, friendliness, and flexibility.”

Pictured: The youth engage in art programs within the EHCW


The EHCW also encourages youth to be involved in community work, through schools, through their places of worship, through their own circles.


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EHCW implemented Pod Circles, an initiative that encourages youth leaders to identify issues within their apartment buildings, and to help direct those who need aid, such as newcomers to the country. 10 to 12 people per building identify issues, and take on leadership roles, such as vaccines and safety during the pandemic.


Currently, the EHCW is starting a youth committee, comprised of international students, staff and program members. These programs consist of baking, arts and crafts, as well as various free tutoring services in math, english and the sciences.


“They nurture a genuine interest in community involvement,” Singh stated, “when they attend our programs, they also help with food distribution and various other activities.:


To join this youth committee, or to engage with the EHCW’s youth programs and initiatives, please visit ehcw.ca, or contact (416) 663 2978.


“This is a message to give: what you give, you also receive,” Singh finally remarked, “youth should always keep in mind to give out into their community.


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