Settlement Workers In Schools (SWIS) Worker, Burnaby School District and Community Development Worker, South Burnaby Neighborhood House
In both her positions, Branka works to connect new arrivals to Canada to services and information needed to live and work in Canada. As a SWIS worker, she is often the first contact for new immigrants. As Community Development Worker, Branka assists all residents to make greater connections to the community.
Branka embraces both her roles with great passion and a deep understanding of the importance of creating a welcoming and inclusive community for all.
Her own struggles as a newcomer to Canada help her relate to and support those who are now making Burnaby their home. She remembers, “I came to Canada in 1996 as a government-sponsored refugee from Bosnia. I came with my husband and our two very little kids. When you come here you are totally lonely – you really don’t mean anything to anybody.”
“I was looking for a place to belong... to do something, so I started volunteering, helping newcomers like myself. I loved the support South Burnaby Neighborhood House provided for women so I got hooked on volunteering here.”
Branka has facilitated numerous cultural diversity related workshops for staff, volunteers and residents of all ages. She works to connect Burnaby residents, other service providers and the immigrants and refugees she meets to each other and to the many welcoming community events and programs hosted by the South Burnaby Neighbourhood House. Branka’s reach into the community is deep; she also coordinates the Neighbourhood Small Grants program and provides training to organizations as a Safe Harbour facilitator.
Through her work, Branka has helped many long-time residents understand the challenges faced by newcomers, and supported those residents to develop positive approaches for community building and assisted new residents to develop a sense of belonging.
One example is the monthly “Sharing of Cultures” dinners; a different culture is presented and celebrated each month and the whole community is invited. People get to tell their stories about growing up in different countries and learn about other cultures. Dinner is often followed by dance performances and artists.
All her hard work is inspired by each and every newcomer. She says, “I think that’s what I get the most from the involvement in the community – after all these years, I have so many people who love me! And I love them too. All these people, I see the smiles on their face. Officially I help them, but unofficially they help me! I built my new family from scratch.”
When asked what any person can do to make Burnaby and New Westminster more welcoming, she replies, “It doesn’t matter where you are… it’s important to have time to notice people. To be personal and equal. And to really try to hear people’s stories. We all need a place to belong. We all need a place to be acknowledged.”
Immigrants have developed a sense of belonging through Banka’s efforts and initiatives. Her welcoming nature, sense of humor and smile touches everyone she meets – new immigrants, long term residents, seniors, youth, and businesses. Branka embraces the whole philosophy of inclusion in everything that she does. She reminds us “If you stop and listen, and try to build a connection, the world will be a better place.”