Today’s headlines tell us that Canadians often don’t understand the various and complex reasons why immigrants and refugees chose to leave their homeland. The Shoe Project was conceived and developed as a way to offer the opportunity to “take a walk in her shoes.” We know that when we do so we gain empathy and compassion for strangers whose lives have been disrupted by war, economic failure, or other crises. However, for too long, the word immigrant and refugee has been a mask to the real people behind it. These newcomers, vital to a productive, diversified struggle to settle, find employment and true integration in our society. For women especially, cultural barriers, domestic duties, and lack of opportunity, the path to becoming a Canadian is difficult. Their journey is often secret, their heroism left unrecognized. Furthermore, it’s estimated that immigrants are underpaid to the tune of $12.6 billion every year. Those underused skills could add $2.4 billion to the Canadian economy yearly. Whether a woman is a professional, has a trade, or needs more education, the situation is the same: lower levels of English and confidence deter her, and hence her whole family.

The Shoe Project’s exceptional value is that we take a pro-active approach to identifying potential female leaders with intermediate to advanced language skills and encourage them to bring their stories of courage to light and to the stage for the benefit of themselves, other vulnerable newcomers and audiences keen to be informed about immigration and integration.

Since founder and novelist Katherine Govier launched The Shoe Project in 2011, the program has established itself as a culturally sensitive, successful workshop model and platform for immigrant and refugee women interested in mastering written and spoken Canadian language skills. Appreciating that art has the power to generate debate and encourage dialogue and openness, The Shoe Project removes the mask from the words “immigrant” and “refugee.” Upholding the principle of freedom of expression as the cornerstone of our democratic society, The Shoe Project serves as an agent of change and inspires our most determined – and disadvantaged - immigrants to bring their full potential to our country.