The Salvation Army is extremely excited to be supporting a new creative writing workshop for women at The Haven Multifaith Housing Initiative in the Barrhaven neighbourhood of Ottawa.
The Women’s Writing Workshop started as a pilot project in the fall of 2019 and has expanded to include a second more advanced workshop in the winter. The workshops are designed to empower women to share their stories in a safe, supportive environment.
The program was developed by Suzanne Doerge of the Amherst Writers and Artists group. Suzanne is a certified facilitator and has worked for many years with women from marginalized communities in cross-cultural learning environments.
“I really felt this program was something special that The Salvation Army could support. The Women’s Writing Workshop is empowering women, meeting people where they are at, listening to their stories and creating a sanctuary for them,” said Christina Bulgin, Salvation Army Community Ministries Coordinator in Barrhaven.
The workshop in the fall saw eight participants from different backgrounds, most of whom were newcomers to Canada and spoke English as a second language. The workshops are open to residents of The Haven, but also to the broader community.
“Barrhaven is a diverse community with amazing partnerships like the Multifaith Housing Initiative. The work they do with the Salvation Army to empower women and newcomers to Canada is much needed and shows great leadership,” said Barrhaven City Councillor, Jan Harder. “The Salvation Army works to support a variety of mental health initiatives and they are always looking for new and innovative ways to serve our growing community of 100,000 people.”
The introductory workshop is called “Women Exploring Our Unique Voices” and the new advanced course beginning this Winter is called “Writing Our Lives”.
“The writing workshop is important to these women because not only does it allow them to tell their stories, but it builds self-esteem as well as a social network,” said Sahada Alolo, Manager of Community Engagement at Multifaith Housing.
Suzanne, who facilitates the groups, creates a safe and positive environment for all participants.
“I first approached The Haven and suggested that creative writing could be a way to help build the community and give women the opportunity to share their stories and find a voice. I knew The Haven was a unique social housing unit that brings women from different cultures and different faiths together.”
Suzanne explained that each workshop begins with each participant saying aloud in their language ‘I am a writer’ followed by writing prompts and a statement or an image to spark 10 – 20 minutes of writings.
A participant from the group, Mara Watson, spoke excitedly about how Suzanne begins each session by creating a scene for the group to guide them through writing a story.
“Suzanne will say ‘there is a woman on the road and she is walking; describe what the weather is like, what’s around her and if she is speaking to someone,” said Mara. “I didn’t think I could write. I am surprised at how Suzanne was able to draw these words out of me. I’m excited and I feel inspired as I hear what others have to share. We inspire each other.”
Suzanne explains participants are invited to read their writing while the listeners express what they found to be strong in the writing, so that they learn through positive affirmation.
“The approach I use is that everyone is a writer and has creative genius inside themselves but it’s been buried, so the writing helps us rediscover that inside ourselves.”
The group meets once a week for 2 and half hours and members take turns bringing a snack for everyone to share.
“I attended their first group gathering because I wanted to look the women in the eyes and say ‘your story is important to us, you are important to us,’” said Christina. “We are not just funding the program; this is something that matters and it’s so meaningful to us, and you are contributing members of our community.”
To register or for more information contact Sahada Alolo at The Haven Multifaith Housing
About The Salvation Army:
The Salvation Army is an international faith-based organization that began its work in Canada in 1882 and has grown to become the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in the country. The Salvation Army gives hope and support to vulnerable people today and every day in over 400 communities across Canada and in 131 countries around the world. The Salvation Army offers practical assistance for children and families, often tending to the basic necessities of life, providing shelter for homeless people and rehabilitation for people who have lost control of their lives to an addiction. When you give to The Salvation Army, you are investing in the future of marginalized and overlooked people in your community.
About Multifaith Housing Initiative:
Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) exists to build affordable housing that helps fix Ottawa’s housing crisis and gets at risk people into secure, safe homes. You don’t need us to tell you about housing issues and homelessness in our communities, you can see it for yourself. Traditional thinking doesn’t work hard enough, so MHI does something different. A coalition of faith groups, local businesses, civil society, the City of Ottawa and federal/provincial governments all working together to build and house our communities for the future. This new way of working has created more than 400 new homes, with more on the way. It has opened up new ways to gather the commitment, skills and resources that build homes and strengthen communities. To have a safe, secure, affordable home is life changing. A roof over your head means more than shelter. It means better health, more stability. A chance to work, study and live to build a future for yourself, for others and for the greater community. MHI is a not-for-profit charitable organization in Ottawa, Canada established in 2002. Multifaith Housing Initiative offers a number of programs to its residents including youth program, nutrition education program, playgroups, homework club and free tax clinics.
About Amherst Writers and Artists:
Amherst Writers & Artists is a non-profit arts organization and network of writing workshop leaders. We offer an intensive training in the AWA method, founded over thirty years ago by Pat Schneider, author of Writing Alone and With Others, Oxford University Press. Our community is made up of the AWA-certified leaders who’ve taken our trainings and the writers they work with, who live all over the world and write in settings as diverse as jails, hospitals, senior centers, living rooms, elementary school classrooms, museums and more. Workshop leaders build their writing groups and retreats according to the principles of the AWA method. We honor Pat’s essential wisdom, “writing as an art form belongs to all people, regardless of economic class or educational level.”