A new perspective on diversity in North Vancouver

Neonology is a series of youth workshops that shines a light on discrimination and the power we all have to fight it.

The workshops are held in North Vancouver throughout the year to help students deal with diversity-related issues. Kids from elementary and high school engage in playful activities that promote discussions around stereotypes, bias, privilege and power. This way they can make a difference in their communities by waving the banner of core values such as respect, tolerance and compassion.

“Kids sit in a circle. We create a space for dialogue. But it’s not just sitting down and talking about those issues; it is visually putting it out there, getting them to move their bodies, to experience,” explains youth program manager Farah Yekanifard.

Sarah Canning (diversity coordinator and facilitator) and youth leaders Elnaz Pourandalibi (left) and Jasmine Giles (right). | Photo by Krystal Campioni

Sarah Canning (diversity coordinator and facilitator) and youth leaders Elnaz Pourandalibi (left) and Jasmine Giles (right). | Photo by Krystal Campioni

Neonology’s crew believe there is a way to stop discrimination and racism, doing something tangible to change the lives of many who suffer from having a certain nationality or a different cultural background. Developed with the support of the North Shore Multicultural Society, the interactive workshops empower youth to stand up against limiting stereotypes and learn to become more inclusive and welcoming.

Since 2009, the program has been presented to over 7,000 elementary and secondary school students. Workshops are offered to grade 10 youth, grades 5–7 (Neonology 2.0) and adults (Neonology Legacy). Summer Leadership Camps are offered annually to 15 students between the ages of 13 and 18.

Spark for change

The word Neonology derives from the T-shirt given to each participant of the workshop. Neon and with glasses printed on them, they remind participants to have a brighter perspective on life, through a different lens. This encourages a new way to look at life in community, embracing anti-oppression.

The workshops aim to provide youth with a space where they can speak about what these issues mean to them.

“We, the facilitators, sit at the same level as the students so we hear everybody’s voices. The seating arrangement shows how everyone’s opinions are equally important,” says Sarah Canning, Neonology’s diversity coordinator.

One of the greatest achievements of the project was when some youth, after watching a Neonology workshop, created a “Do Good Committee” and won a humanitarian civic award for the initiative of contributing to society.

“It’s really exciting to be able to open up those ideas to kids when talking to them. To see those ideas applied in the community is really what Neonology is all about,” says Canning.

Neonology’s crew intends to offer online courses in the near future. However, Neonology’s main challenge is to find the funding needed to cover their expenses, which stresses Elizabeth Jones, executive director of North Shore Multicultural Society.

“To have a program like this and offer more support to everyone involved you need stability in the staffing and to do so you need stability in your funding,” Jones says.

Neon future

Every summer, students across the North Shore apply and go through interviews to be part of the Leadership Camp. 15 youth are then chosen to participate. They learn to embrace Neonology’s message and help create social change. After the camp, youth leaders meet every week over the course of the school year to organize and plan more actions in the community, such as potlucks to welcome new immigrants and anti-bullying events.

“Right now we’re doing a project called Neon Hope for Change. We’re collecting donations at schools – hygiene products, sweaters, and warm clothes to help the homeless”, says Elnaz Pourandalibi, a youth leader from Iran who has lived in Canada for two years.

Those are the neon bright perspectives for the future of North Vancouver’s kids and community. It’s just a start, since being open to diversity “is life-long learning”, as Elizabeth Jones points out.

Jasmine Giles, a youth leader born in Toronto, is proud to be part of Neonology.

“I feel loyal to this group and it’s like a family to me. I am proud to make a change and help the community,” she says.

More information about Neonology workshops can be found at www.neonology.ca