Urban Exchange in a Class of Its Own

July 11, 2008

They came to Canada from the four corners of the globe. Crossing oceans and continents, they left their homes in China, Argentina, West Africa, Ukraine and other faraway places. Among them were plastic surgeons, computer programmers and engineers. Together, they are learning English at Red River College – hoping for a new start in a new city.

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More than words-after lending their voices to Urban Exchange, United Way's advisory panel, Red River College students Thérèse Niyonkuru and Natalia Khalemsky learned even more about our community during a three-week work practicum at United Way.

But what did they think of their new home? What did they like about Winnipeg? What were their concerns? Was the city meeting their expectations?

Urban Exchange went into the classroom to find out at the invitation of Red River College (RRC) instructor Rita Prokopetz.

Urban Exchange is a United Way of Winnipeg Advisory Panel. It’s a way for Winnipeggers to share their opinions with United Way on issues that matter most to them.

A panellist herself, Rita liked the idea of including the voices of some of Canada’s newest residents – in particular her students. It would also give them a chance to practice their English.

They had plenty to say and Urban Exchange presented at four more RRC classes. The relationship continued to grow and two students came to United Way for a three-week work practicum. Thérèse Niyonkuru arrived in Canada just six months ago from Cameroon. She said her time with United Way gave her a chance to improve her computer skills and learn about some of the challenges our city faces.

“United Way of Winnipeg was a great place to volunteer…now I know a little bit (about) what it is. I know that Urban Exchange is a United Way of Winnipeg Panel through which Winnipeggers and United Way can talk (with) each other in order to find solutions to issues that most concern them in the city.”

Joining Thérèse was Natalia Khalemsky who came to Winnipeg from Ukraine.

“Now I know that everyone can and has to do something that improves life in our city. I will continue to participate because I think it is very important and I hope that my opinions will help.”

Both are returning to class in the fall and are looking forward to putting their language skills to work when they enter the workforce.

Urban Exchange will be connecting with a new group of language students when classes resume at RRC in September.