Montréal interculturel (by Dr. Mela Sarkar)

It’s another New Year, incredibly and inexorably, which for those of us in academia means another new term with all its teaching-related and/or other scholarly tasks. We may be, and probably are, teaching undergraduates or second language students. We are also almost certainly working on research projects of some kind and thinking about how to tell people about them, through our writing or our presenting at conferences. All that presents certain funding challenges and we are dealing with them as best we may.

Meanwhile, a quite different kind of funding challenge is being dealt with by a number of community groups in the Greater Montreal area. I am made newly aware of this every January when I serve on an adjudication committee for intercultural projects (Programme Montréal intercultural) at the Ville de Montréal. Municipal taxes serve to make the city run, in all its diversity — the diversity we have been writing about in this blog. This includes a host of programs that the VdM does its best to fund at the community level, usually with an ever-shrinking funding envelope. Canada, Quebec, and Montreal all say they are proud of the vibrant and burgeoning multicultural (or, in Quebec, “intercultural”) face of cities like Montreal. However, that doesn’t mean Canada and Quebec are willing to shell out to community groups all across their jurisdictions to help with small-scale local initiatives intended to make the challenges of diversity easier for people to live with. Our taxes fund a number of excellent programs through Heritage Canada /Patrimoine Canada at the federal level and le MIDI (Ministère de l’immigration, diversité et inclusion) at the provincial level, but the applicants who will have access to these funds must have mastered a kind of “grantspeak” and know the funding application ropes in a way that grassroots community groups, unless they include a lot of moonlighting academics, can rarely manage. In any case, those envelopes are shrinking even faster (and even more dependent on political maneuvering to stay open at all).

Montreal interculturel

So the applications for $7500 (the maximum allowed), or less, come flooding in at the municipal level, more and more of them every year as funding tightens up at other levels. They are put together by groups of all sizes, from a dozen or so people all living on the same street (an organisme de quartier hoping to organize an intercultural fête du quartier) to quite large organizations hoping for a municipal contribution to a much larger project. Reading through these applications is a mind-boggling exercise in what and who is out there in Montreal, and has inspired in me a profound respect and admiration for the people who are contributing their time and ingenuity — unpaid or very poorly paid — to trying to bring people of diverse origins together.

All across the territory of Greater Montreal, community groups are organizing collective cuisine workshops in which they learn simultaneously about good nutrition (these workshops are often for the poorest of the poor) and the cuisine of other cultures. Or sewing workshops in which they can have access to the equipment they would need to make their own clothes cheaply and teach their neighbours about different ways of looking and dressing. Or discussion groups, twinning projects, cafés-rencontres in which people in neighbourhoods that in recent years have come to sound and look very “different” can start to work together to try to understand and overcome tensions among disaffected minority youth or everyday racist incidents (to cite but a couple of typical examples). Something as simple as getting kids of all origins together to play soccer or sing or workshop youth theatre together. It doesn’t take much, but it can’t be done on no funding.

These groups do not survive unless there is commitment from a whole range of people, including academics. I wish I could give more time to my own community group, the South Asian Women’s Community Centre. That’s us in the photo.


But even a little time is better than none. If you can — get out there and volunteer. Somehow, somewhere. The rewards are not financial but they are huge. It’s worth it.

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