In 1986, over 2 million immigrants and refugees arrived in Ontario. Many of these immigrants were born in such countries as Armenia, Laos, Lebanon, Iran, Ukraine, Viet Nam, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Russian Federation. With increasing numbers of immigrants beginning to arrive to Ontario, there were not many organizations prepared to receive and help them adjust to their new home.
In 1986, a number of meetings were held by concerned immigrant women in Waterloo to assess the needs of arriving immigrant women. This resulted in a funding application to Canada Employment Centre (CEC) to carry out a feasibility study to set up a training program for immigrant and visible minority women.
In 1987, a feasibility study was conducted with manager Mary Ann Scott, and two researchers, Pushpa Seeraratnam and Lisa Harnelt, working for six months out of the Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA under the guidance of a Board of Directors. A proposal was developed to set up a sewing skills training program with English language and life skills components. This training program, Skills Unlimited (SU), began operations at 33 Bridgeport Road East in Waterloo in March 1998. Funding was provided by CEC for a Severely Employment Disadvantaged (SED) project under the Canadian Job Strategy.
The founding members strove to provide opportunities for personal growth and socio-economic advancement while facilitating the integration of immigrant and visible minority women into Canadian society. They also wanted to create an organization that would promote skill development, access to education, recreational services and employment for immigrant and visible minority women.
Focus for Ethnic Women was created to support female immigrants in particular. The founding members of Focus desired to create an organization that supported the holistic nature of women’s needs, including their physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual needs. They wanted to create a safe space for immigrant women to feel personal empowerment while enhancing their self esteem.
Focus for Ethnic Women was incorporated as a charitable organization in July 1987.
Inaugural Board of Directors (1987-1988)
Ari Ariaratnam – President
Shobhana Ranjit – Secretary
Ulke Khare – Treasurer
Since 1988, Focus for Ethnic Women has received funding for various projects from:
Secretary of State
Ontario Women’s Directorate
Ontario Women’s Directorate in collaboration with the Victorian Order of Nurses
Canada Employment Centre (CEC)
K-W Community Foundation
Community Opportunities Development Association
Status of Women Canada
Ministry of Education and Training
Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC)
Ontario Trillium Foundation
Canadian Women’s Foundation
Region of Waterloo
For more information about the immigrant population of Waterloo Region, please click here.