By Trevor Busch
With emphasis on networking between different service providers, the Southern Alberta Kanadier Association’s Low German Mennonite Conference focused on creating inroads and enhancing integration.
The Southern Alberta Kanadier Association (SAKA) is a diverse group of service providers committed to improving the health and well-being of the LGM population in southern Alberta.
Hosted over two days (Nov. 19 – 20) at the Heritage Inn, SAKA secretary Tina Meggison explained what the conference was trying to achieve, and what outcomes the organization hopes to see in working with the region’s LGM population.
“Working with our Low German Mennonites at the SAKA meetings, we’re as service providers always working to create resources, or just to bring more awareness of the culture for other service providers so they can build that trusting relationship with the clients they serve. And so its been a dream for a long time to organize a conference like this, and so when FCSS (Family and Community Support Services) was willing to give us some of their funds to make this possible, we jumped on that ship, and so here we are. We’re very happy that there’s service providers eager to learn more about the culture, so that they can better work with this community so that there’s more inroads and integration. There’s a lot of work that can be done in this area, and we feel the more service providers know about the community, the better they’ll be able to work with them and provide service, and understand and provide empathy, and have the community be willing to actually take part in the services.”
The conference provided cultural information, networking and resource sharing for agencies and service providers, with speakers invited from across Canada to share their experiences and knowledge. The first day of the conference featured keynote speaker Abe Janzen with MCC Calgary who talked initially about culture and history, and later about trends and religion.
“Yesterday we had Abe Janzen — he was our keynote — he spoke a lot on history, trends and religion, and he had a lot of work experience from Bolivia, working with the LGM population there,” said SAKA treasurer Trudy Dyck. “We also had Eva Cool, she is of LGM background as well. She spoke about healing and awareness, just her personal journey of grief and growth and loss and healing.”
The second day of the conference saw Belinda Crowson with the Lethbridge Historical Society deliver a presentation on LGM History in Southern Alberta, followed by Lily Hiebert Rempel with MCC Ontario talking about Life and Healthcare in Mennonite Colonies. The afternoon would feature a presentation about a local LGM success story, as well as child protection worker Amanda Sawatzky with the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society talking about the life of a transnational student.
“We picked some of these speakers based on what kinds of questions we get from service providers that we’ve worked with over the past seven years,” said Meggison. “So there is often questions when we do our own presentations, and so we tried to pick the speakers based on those questions.”
The sometimes migratory nature of the local LGM population can contribute to gaps in understanding among service providers, and Meggison is hopeful the conference helped to shed some light on those areas.
“We’re hoping that people will learn who else is out there as far as service providers, and what kind of services are they already providing, so that we’re not constantly re-inventing the wheel. There’s a lot of programs happening, so we’ve made this a resource-sharing conference where they can bring their own resources and take some home with them…it’s really just hoping to show service providers some of the intricacies of spending your time between Canada and Mexico (or elsewhere in Latin America), and how that they can bridge some of those gaps.”
The conference saw a good turnout, with 140 registered. Although not yet planned or financed for 2020, Meggison would like to see the event become annual and travel to other rural centres in the region.
“We’re actually really happy to see the support and the interest from service providers, and that just shows that there’s a need for cultural awareness. We’re hoping that they want this again, and hopefully we can do this every year.”
SAKA meets quarterly in southern Alberta. Anyone interested in joining can email Meggison at Tina.firstname.lastname@example.org.