2021: The Shoe Project 10th Anniversary

On stages from Halifax, Charlottetown, Antigonish and St. John to Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Canmore and Vancouver, The Shoe Project's performers have sent their stories straight into the hearts of the Canadian public.

And there is more to come in 2021-2022 in Windsor, Brampton, Vancouver and Toronto.

Begun when Canada's best writers and actors chose to work with newcomers in 2011, today, The Shoe Project comes into its own as a national platform for immigrant and refugee women.

Participants' Voices

What does it mean for you to be part of The Shoe Project?

We asked The Shoe Project participants to write to us about their experience in The Project. Please read their reflections.  

 

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Antonina Natalukha

Participant

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Antonina Natalukha


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. We received this video message from Antonina Natalukha. Her story shows her incredible resilience and power to overcome hardship.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke

 

Antonina Natalukha moved to Canada 14 years ago from Ukraine. She is the mother of two children. She has a passion for belly dancing, which she teaches and performs at various venues.

 

Read the story that Antonina Natalukha wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Ukraine in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Clara Guerrero

Participant

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Clara Guerrero


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Clara Guerrero.

 

"I'm happy that it happened in my life."

 

When I first started with The Shoe Project, I thought it would be about sharing my story and connecting with other immigrant women who would share theirs as well. I did not imagine that participating in this project would produce a big change in me.

It was not easy to write about myself and the arduous process of starting a life in a new country. 

I wanted to write about my salsa sandals, the ones that have been with me for an awfully long time. I took them with me to every country I have lived in. I walked, worked, and danced in them in Colombia, the United States, England, and the Dominican Republic. When I came to Canada, I brought them with me, of course. And they have been in my closet for 14 years. 

Occasionally, I look at them and can feel the warm tropical weather, the ocean breeze,  the dancing music, the bands playing, the friends, the smiles, the laughter, and the fashion. But then, some minutes later, I pack them and carefully put them back into the closet again. I understand that I lived plenty of good moments with them, in the same way that I had a good professional career before coming to Canada. However, I cannot live my present life attached to memories. It is better to let go, conquer my fears, accept the changes, and create wonderful new experiences. This is what The Shoe Project helped me realize.

Week after week, meeting with the other participants, I listened to their stories about their lives, their difficulties. I had amazing coaching from Helen Rolfe and Nan Hughes Poole, and wonderful encouragement from Noriko Ohsada. We could not have asked for more. I am more than happy that I am part of The Shoe Project. Thank you, Katherine Govier. Thank you, Canada.

 

Clara Guerrero was born in Bogotá, Colombia, the country of smooth coffee and exquisite flowers. While working for a worldwide corporation in Dominican Republic, she decided to come to Canada to study English. Her planned visit of five months turned into 14 years in the Bow Valley. Through the challenging experience of the immigration process, the feeling of transformation became meaningful to Clara. She now appreciates a simpler life in Canmore where she works in the retail industry.

 

Read the story that Clara Guerrero wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Colombia in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Elia Lopez

Participant

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Elia Lopez


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. We received this video message from Elia López.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke

 

Elia López was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico. Elia Lopez moved to Canada in her search for a more peaceful lifestyle. Little did she know what Canada had in store for her: a spiritual realization that would shape the second half of her life.

 

Read the story that Elia López wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Mexico in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Fabiola Menares

Participant

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Fabiola Menares


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Fabiola Menares.

 

“The Shoe Project helped me to see my whole life as a graceful poem written on a puzzle where each event is represented by a piece.”

 

Fabiola Menares was born in Chile. She moved to Canada in 2014.

Filiz Dogan

Participant

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Filiz Dogan


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Filiz Dogan.

 

"The Shoe Project made me feel like at home in Canada."

 

I felt like Yasmin Lash is expressing my thoughts. I lived through a very similar experience during and after my participation in The Shoe Project. I am still in touch with many participants. I invited my friends into this cycle, and I befriended people from this project. It was not just friendship and having fun together. We also helped each other find jobs.

The Shoe Project extended my (our) networking and made me (us) feel a little bit more like we were at home in this country. I am not shy any more about my accent. I am working in a job that depends heavily on language, communication and social skills. There have been lots of challenges and there still are, but I survived.

The Shoe Project came into my life when I had been feeling lonely and helpless. It provided a spark to illuminate my career path in my second language and culture.

I met with Ania Vesenny's team and participants in Halifax. I saw how Ania was dedicated to her job. And these women were amazing on the stage.

I want to express my gratitude to The Shoe Project and Katherine Govier.

 

Filiz Dogan is a psychologist from Turkey. She was a member of the first Shoe Project session in 2011 and a four-time alumna. She is now a member of the Board of Directors of the Project. Filiz has been working in the mental health field as a Registered Psychotherapist.

 

Read the story that Filiz Dogan wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Turkey in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Freweini Berhane

Participant

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Freweini Berhane


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Freweini Berhane.

 

"I had the honour to be one of the first and youngest participants in the project."

 

The Shoe Project has had a deep and significant meaning and impact in my life. I had the honour to be one of the first and youngest participants in the project when it launched in 2011.

The project allowed me to meet strong, independent and courageous immigrant women who faced many obstacles in their journeys. The hardship of life that each of them faced made them extraordinary people. Despite what they had been through, they were kind, compassionate and optimistic. They had great hope and were working hard for a better future in Canada.

Since I was the youngest and most recent newcomer, I had so much to learn from the experiences of each one of them. Their stories, their strength and their commitment to overcome obstacles and create a better and sustainable life in Canada inspired me so much. They became my role models. Consequently, I had the opportunity to improve my writing and stage performance skills.

 

Freweini Berhane is from Eritrea. She fled the country at 16. In 2010, she arrived in Canada to reunite with her father. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a double major in Human Biology and Health Studies. She also completed a post-graduate certification program in Regulatory Affairs from Algonquin College. Freweini worked as a clinical research coordinator for a few years at a family medical centre and pursued further education in the medical field and public health.

 

Read the story that Freweini Berhane wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Eritrea in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Helen O'Neill

Participant

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Helen O'Neill


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Watch and read the reflections of Helen O'Neill.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke

 

"I am proud of what I have done."

 

My name is Helen O’Neill. I was born and raised in the Philippines. I came to Canada in 1990, and I have been here in Bow Valley for over 30 years. I was nine years old when my father died. And I never thought in my life that I would become partly responsible for raising my six siblings. When I heard about The Shoe Project, it was great. I was so happy and interested to tell my story—especially where I came from. I was so honoured. It was an honour for me to tell my story, and I am so proud of what I am today.

 

Helen O’Neill moved to Canada 30 years ago. It was with The Shoe Project that she first shared the story about her father. It’s a beautiful story about resilience, overcoming hardship and coming into your own strength.

 

Read the story that Helen O'Neill wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Philippines in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Lucie Darshan

Participant

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Lucie Darshan


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Lucie Darshan.

 

“The Shoe Project made me realize how incredibly connected we all are. It made me see the similarities in all our beautiful differences. We, humans, truly connect through stories, and in every single story shared by others, I could hear a little piece of my own self."

 

Lucie Darshan is from the Czech Republic. She moved to Canada in 2012.

Manisha Shrestha

Participant

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Manisha Shrestha


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. We received this video message from Manisha Shrestha who resides currently in Kathmandu, Nepal. She lived in Canada from 2013 until 2017.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke

 

Manisha Shrestha works as a volunteer coordinator for the Australian Volunteers Program in CECI Nepal. She holds a master’s degree in Geo-Informatics from the International Institute of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) in the Netherlands. Manisha came to Canada with her spouse and son in 2013. She lived in Canmore, Alberta for five years to support her husband in pursuing his Ph.D. She and her family returned permanently to Nepal in 2017. During her stay in Canmore, she volunteered and worked for many community development activities in the Bow Valley.

 

Read the story that Manisha Shrestha wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Nepal in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Michelle Garcia

Participant

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Michelle Garcia


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Read the reflections of Michelle Garcia.

 

"I overcame my fear of speaking publicly with my Shoe Project participation, especially in my case with a physical handicap."

 

 

Michelle Garcia is from the Philippines. She moved to Canada in 2012.

Monica Kim

Participant

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Monica Kim


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. We received this video message from Monica Kim.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke

 

Monica Kim immigrated to Canada from South Korea in 2016 to reunite with her husband, Steven. A professional graphic designer, Monica has actively engaged in her new community in Canmore, Alberta. She took ESL classes and volunteered with the Bow Valley Christmas Campaign. She designed a learner publication, “Meet the Locals”, for the Bow Valley Literacy Program. Before moving to Canada, Monica lived in the US, Sweden, and China.

 

Read the story that Monica wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country South Korea in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Noriko Ohsada

Participant

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Noriko Ohsada


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. We received this beautiful message from Noriko Ohsada.

 

Produced by Nurdjana de Rijcke
 
Noriko Ohsada immigrated from Japan in 1991. With her husband, Kaoru, she built a family in Alberta. She is a Japanese calligraphy artist and works part-time in the accounting field. Over the past few years, Noriko composed four personal stories with The Shoe Project. Now she is the Coordinator for The Shoe Project, Bow Valley in Canmore, Alberta. She is a mother of three. Meg, her eldest daughter with Down syndrome, is an active athlete and artist, and Noriko’s other two daughters are pursuing their education.

 

Read the story that Noriko Ohsada wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Japan in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Nurdjana de Rijcke

Participant

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Nurdjana de Rijcke


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Watch and read the reflections of Nurdjana de Rijcke.

 

 

"It was for me a way of closing certain chapters and leaving certain things behind me."

 

My name is Nurdjana. I’m from the Netherlands and I moved to Canada….10 years ago. That’s right, 10 years ago. That's my daughter in the background there.

And uh, yeah, what did The Shoe Project mean to me? I think one of the very powerful things about The Shoe Project was actually writing your story down, and by writing it down and then presenting it in front of an audience, it was for me a way of closing certain chapters and leaving certain things behind me. Also, to work on that story in a group of women that are so powerful, resilient and supportive—that was incredibly meaningful. I hope a lot of other immigrant women get to experience this and get to be part of The Shoe Project because it’s something truly meaningful and powerful.

 

Nurdjana De Rijcke moved to Canada 10 years ago to start a family. After a successful career as a journalist and a musician in the Netherlands, she settled into a slower pace of life in the Canadian Rockies. She has two young children and recently resumed her music career. She will release her first album in the spring.
 
Read the story that Nurdjana de Rijcke wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Netherlands in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Roxana Goerlitz

Participant

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Roxana Goerlitz


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project?  We asked The Shoe Project alumnae to write to us about their experience in The Project. Watch and read the reflections of Roxana Goerlitz.

 

 

“It was one of the best decisions that I have taken in my life.”

 

Have you heard this saying, "Life is a series of little steps along the way and if you add up these tiny little steps you take toward your goal?" Well, in my case, the first step was getting away from my shyness, from being bullied at school. I was afraid of speaking in public, giving my opinion. Basically, I did not want to be noticed.

Eventually, in 2015, I took a bigger step, I came to Canada by myself, met my husband, and started a new life.

When I saw the ad about "The Shoe Project", I had doubts about joining because of my fear of speaking in public. But I knew this experience could help me to overcome my fear. So I did it, and now I can confirm that it was a great decision, one of the best decisions I have taken in my life.

I met an amazing group of women and Canadian coaches that gave me such a big help. It was life-changing for me.
After this powerful experience, I can say that I feel more confident. It made me stronger, and I am happy to be part of The Shoe Project.

So, thank you The Shoe Project.

 

Roxana Goerlitz came to Canada from Chile in 2015. After four years, she participated in The Shoe Project. Roxana lives in Calgary where she recently finished the “Career Services for Foreign Trained Professionals” program of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association. She has begun her practicum as an Administrative Assistant at Making Changes, an organization that helps empower women.
 
Read the story that Roxana Goerlitz wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Chili in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Saima Hussain

Participant

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Saima Hussain


Participant


What does it mean for you to be part of the Shoe Project? We asked The Shoe Project participants to write to us about their experience in The Project. This is a reminiscence we received from alumna Saima Hussain.

 

"Here I met the incredibly resilient and wise women."

 

The Shoe Project was about sisterhood. Sitting around one table, we, women from virtually every part of the globe, shared our personal stories over cups of tea.

We laughed, cried, and hugged. We bonded. It was a unique and enriching experience. We heard first-hand about living in a refugee camp in South Sudan, about lining up early in the morning to buy goods in Communist Poland, and about sexy red shoes in Turkey. We all walked a mile in each other’s shoes (pun intended!) and learned so much from one another. 

I will forever be in awe of the incredibly resilient and wise women I met. And I will carry their stories with me everywhere I go.

 
Saima Hussain was born in Karachi, Pakistan. She holds an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto and an MLIS from the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of “The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women” (2016) and “The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations and Amazing Facts” (2013). Saima is a librarian in the public library system and continues her involvement in arts and community projects.
 
Read the story that Saima Hussain wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Pakistan in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

 

In the photo: Saima Hussain (corner right) among the other participants of The Shoe Project in Toronto.

Yasmin Lash

Participant

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Yasmin Lash


Participant


Yasmin Lash sent this letter of appreciation to Katherine Govier, the novelist and founder of The Shoe Project. With Yasmin’s permission, we were gratefully publishing it on social media.

And then, we asked the Shoe Project alumnae, please write to us in response to the following question: What does it mean to you to be part of The Shoe Project? Now you can read all the answers on our website.

 

"It means that I could be myself"

 

My name is Yasmin Lash, and I was a participant in the Shoe Project in Halifax a couple of years ago. I realize it may be a little late now to write about my experience and thoughts on the process, but I hope that is ok.

I would like to start by saying thank you. It was a wonderful and meaningful experience. I am still in touch with some of the other participants. Before COVID restrictions, we even met a few times over coffee. Hopefully, we can continue doing that in the future.

As an immigrant, I feared that I would never get the chance to meet people outside of the circle of my culture. This project was the perfect opportunity to break that mold. I believe that writing in a group about our personal journeys emphasized that culture can be a bridge and not a barrier. It also reinforced my feelings that all immigrants share a similar unique subculture no matter where they come from. I want to add that Lorri Nielsen Glenn was wonderful in creating open and safe communication pathways for our group that enabled growth and learning.

Writing is a passion I’ve always had, and The Shoe Project was the perfect opportunity for me to write in English for the first time. With that said, writing can be intimidating sometimes, and that is especially true when trying to write in a second, third or fourth language. (I'm not certain if I should call English my third or my fourth language.)

As I joined The Shoe Project in my second year in Canada as an immigrant, I felt that the process of writing in English echoed in a lot of ways my struggles in using English on a daily basis. Language is a cultural tool. Learning a language is also connected to the culture and history of that specific language. But only when you’ve mastered the language are you able to express your own culture through it and bring yourself alive using it.

My English speaking level was high when I came to Canada. Technically, I could communicate efficiently. However, I did not feel that I could 'be myself' when I was using English. Words that I used did not feel familiar. I felt that I had lost the ability to be witty, use humour, cynicism, catch phrases and reply accordingly. This affected my ability to make true friendships and relationships. Any appreciation for what I could produce in writing or speaking didn't feel enough since I knew in my heart that it was not matching what I could do in my first or second language.

That is why working on a short story in English challenged me in all the right ways. I didn't have the 'luxury' to throw words away until I got my point clear. I had to be precise, to find and write the exact English words that expressed what existed in my head in another culture. Working with Ania Vesenny was hard, exciting, demanding and excellent in that way.

Ania was able to make me feel competent as a writer by challenging me to improve, find more fitting words and expressions. To treat each word as an entity of expression. In other words, to reclaim the written story as my own even though I wrote it in a 'foreign' language and thus claim English as mine to use. It was priceless.

I hope that the project will come back to Halifax again and offer a unique experience to many more. I know I will cherish it always.


Yasmin Lash grew up in a small Circassian community in Israel. She worked as an occupational therapist for 18 years before she immigrated to Canada in 2018 with her husband and four children. She is currently working at the Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).


Read the story that Yasmin Lash wrote for The Shoe Project. Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Israel in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Mentors' Reflections

Why have you taken on this work?

We asked The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to write to us about their experience in The Project. Please read their reflections.

 

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Alison Matthews

Voice and Drama Coach, Vancouver BC

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Alison Matthews


Voice and Drama Coach, Vancouver BC


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Alison Matthews’s answer.

 

When Katherine Govier contacted me about coaching for the Vancouver chapter of The Shoe Project, I thought it sounded interesting. Much of my work is with actors, and I do like opportunities to work with different groups of people. I was also keen to have the chance to support women.

What I am discovering through this work is a kind of unfolding and revealing. Each time we meet, warm up our bodies and voices, practise speaking the stories aloud, and build a public performance, I understand a little more about what The Shoe Project is really doing. The women and their stories come into focus, and this is a radical act. Centring women’s voices, especially the voices of women from marginalized communities and less developed countries, is not the way our mainstream power structures were designed. I know so little of the struggles of women in other parts of the world. And they share them with sensitivity, passion and grace.

I love exploring the nuances of speaking in front of audiences. But the participants of The Shoe Project are also working very practically on language skills. They sign up to work on their skills in written and spoken English. It is professional development—job training. And it’s a way for them to tell their story and to connect with their new communities here in Canada. I am honoured to serve them—not only because of the sacrifices they’ve made and the hardships they’ve faced in coming here, but because their presence here is a gift to us. 

I do this work because the women who come to the project are remarkable. I do this work in hopes that we may listen and learn.

 

Alison Matthews is a voice specialist in the Drama Department at the University of Alberta. She is also a founding faculty member at the Arts Club Actor’s Intensive and Head of Coaching for the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, where she has coached since 2007. Alison is the voice instructor for the newly created Realwheels Acting Academy: a professional training program for artists in the disability community. With 30 years of professional acting experience, Alison has numerous film, television and theatre credits. She has been in demand as a professional voiceover artist for over 25 years.

 

Learn more about Alison Matthews

Alissa York

Writing Mentor, Toronto ON

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Alissa York


Writing Mentor, Toronto ON


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Alissa York’s answer.

 

I took on this work because I was so impressed and moved by a Shoe Project performance I attended in Toronto. From the first workshop session, it was clear to me that I had lucked out. The women of The Shoe Project brought an impressive range of life experience and expertise to the table, and they had amazing stories to tell. I don’t know when I’ve been part of a group whose members listened so intently and compassionately to one another. It has been an honour and a profound pleasure to work with these women—to stand witness to their continuing evolution as writers, speakers and empowered human beings.

 

Alissa York is the author of the internationally acclaimed novels Mercy, Effigy (shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize), Fauna and The Naturalist (winner of the Canadian Author’s Association Fiction Award). Stories from her short fiction collection, Any Given Power, have won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award. Alissa has lived all over Canada and now makes her home in Toronto with her husband, artist Clive Holden. She teaches Creative Writing at the Humber School for Writers. Alissa was a Shoe Project writing mentor twice in 2016-2017.

Learn more about Alissa York 

 

Barb Howard

Writing Mentor, Calgary AB

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Barb Howard


Writing Mentor, Calgary AB


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Barb Howard’s answer.

 

The reason I took on the work of writing mentor in my first Shoe Project in 2017 is different from the reason I’ve taken on the work since then. When Katherine Govier asked me to help out the first time, I had not heard of The Shoe Project. I looked it up and liked the idea of meeting and working with newcomer women. I felt that I had sufficient experience in leading writing workshops to be of some use. At the time, I did not realize all the personal benefits that would accrue to me.

Every Shoe Project workshop has held many surprises for me—always including surprising stories, personalities, and emotional connections. But during that first workshop, I was in a constant state of surprise. I spent a lot of time studying world geography, wars and conflicts (past and current), and realized more than ever the importance of sharing personal stories. Most of the previous workshops I had led had been for fiction writing. The bare truth of the Shoe Stories was, and continues to be, both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.

 One of the members of that first group, Dusanka Reljic, knit me a pair of slippers. She had waited more than 20 years to tell her story and I was lucky enough to play a role in her storytelling process. I keep those slippers in a special place in my closet. They symbolize all the gifts, tangible and intangible, that I have received from participants in The Shoe Project.  

And so, I continue to take on the work, and receive the benefits, of The Shoe Project. But now in addition to meeting amazing women and having the privilege of helping them crystallize one of their many life stories, I receive an ongoing education, and sense of connectedness to my city and to the world. And, best of all, I have some new friends!

 

Barb Howard has written five books of fiction, including her latest: Happy Sands. She is a former lawyer, a former Author in Residence for the Calgary Public Library, and a recipient of the Canadian Authors’ Association Exporting Alberta Award and the Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story. Barb is also past president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

Learn more about Barb Howard

Caroline Adderson

Writing mentor, Vancouver BC

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Caroline Adderson


Writing mentor, Vancouver BC


We invited the Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Caroline Adderson’s answer.

 

When Katherine Govier invited me to be the Vancouver mentor, I jumped at the chance. I was an ESL teacher for 12 years, and I remembered how fulfilling it was to work with people from other parts of the world. The work turned out to be even more rewarding than I had expected. Working deeply with each woman to help craft her story filled me with awe. They have survived war, oppression and separation from loved ones. They’ve had to start again in a new language and culture. Every one of them is a hero to me, and their respect and caring for each other despite their differences is a model for a kinder world. 

 

Caroline Adderson is the author of four novels, two collections of short stories, as well as many books for young readers. Her work has received numerous award nominations including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, two Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize long list. Winner of three BC Book Prizes and three CBC Literary Awards, Caroline was also the recipient of the 2006 Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement.

Learn more about Caroline Adderson 

 

Conni Massing

Writing Mentor, Edmonton AB

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Conni Massing


Writing Mentor, Edmonton AB


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Conni Massing’s answer.

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I was thrilled to receive an invitation last year to participate in the first Edmonton iteration of The Shoe Project, working as a writing mentor to the women in the group. I took on this work because I believe in the healing power of storytelling to expand the compassionate understanding our world so desperately needs. I wanted to do everything in my power to help these women share their remarkable experiences.

I am in awe of the courage that it takes to start a new life in a different country, far away from all that is familiar. Having met and worked with the 12 women in our group, bearing witness to their strength, intelligence and humour, I am even more awestruck.

What an honour to be involved—and how deeply humbling. Congratulations to The Shoe Project for a decade of life-changing work.

 

Conni Massing is an award-winning writer working in theatre, television and film. Stage credits include Matara and The Invention of Romance as well as her widely produced adaptations of W.O. Mitchell’s Jake and the Kid and Bruce Allen Powe’s The Aberhart Summer. Conni has many publications to her credit, including six plays and a comic memoir, Roadtripping: On the Move with the Buffalo Gals. Her writing has been recognized by AMPIA, the Academy of Cinema and Television, the Betty Mitchell Awards, the Writers Guild of Alberta and the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards.

Learn more about Conni Massing

Denise Clarke

Voice Coach, Calgary AB

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Denise Clarke


Voice Coach, Calgary AB


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Denise Clarke’s answer. 

 

When answering the question of why I chose to take on the work of The Shoe Project, I need only tell you that it was one conversation with Katherine Govier that sealed the deal in my mind. The Shoe Project was born when Katherine and her sisters were searching for a way to honour their mother, a remarkable role model and educator of Canadian Lit.

My own mother was a war bride from London, England. She settled here in Calgary after the Second World War, and her stories of adapting to a new place, a new culture and a new way of living while raising four children had a big hold on my consciousness growing up. Although she made a wonderful life, it wasn't always easy and she suffered loneliness and a sense of always trying to fit in

When Katherine spoke about The Shoe Project's mission to reach new woman settlers, many coming from very difficult circumstances and facing similar cultural shifts but with the added challenge of language barriers, I could see how much more difficult it would have been for my mom had she not spoken English as a first language. She was often misunderstood just because of her strong accent, so I was sensitive to how new English speakers must feel as they navigate a new community while studying the language. It's bad enough for me trying to order a coffee in France and I have a smattering of French! I have tremendous respect for the courage it demands to re-settle in a new country, often with a new language or even just a strong accent. To be of service to women who come to Canada to begin new lives was something very meaningful to me and I was really delighted to join Katherine's team. 

That was nearly five years ago and to watch the program grow and to meet the fabulous gals that I have met in that time has added immeasurably to my own growth and my own understanding of the world. I believe in the Shoe Project because I believe in the power of these women bringing their stories to the page and the stage. I have seen them shine and glow sitting across from me in conversation or speaking in front of several hundred people. I celebrate the ten years of the Shoe Project with all of them and all of you reading, with the remarkable Shoe Project staff and coordinators and with the Govier sisters who got it all rolling!

 

Denise Clarke is an Associate Artist with One Yellow Rabbit and is the Director of the OYR Summer Lab Intensive. She has created or co-created several shows for OYR including The Erotic Irony of Old Glory, Touch, Breeder, So Low, Featherland, Sign Language, A Fabulous Disaster, Smash, Cut, Freeze and wag. In 2013, Denise was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary and made a Member of the Order of Canada.  

 

 

Helen Rolfe

Writing Mentor, Canmore AB

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Helen Rolfe


Writing Mentor, Canmore AB


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Helen Rolfe’s answer.

 

When asked why I joined as a writing mentor for The Shoe Project, the answer is quick to form: the work is deeply meaningful and has incredible purpose. It empowers women and shares cultures, which ultimately benefits everyone in a community.

I was also drawn to the writing format of the project—600 words and a pair of shoes as a metaphor to share the experience of coming to Canada. I love when there is a specific framework like this in which to tell a story. It makes the writing have to be exact, yet creative and compelling. What a challenge! And to accomplish this with English as a second language and in 10 weeks of writing classes makes the end result even more impressive. The writing process requires time, trust, patience and honesty, and more often than not, it feels easier to give up than continue. My job was to encourage each participant through this process while helping formulate and strengthen their words and keep a smile on their face, making their story as ready as possible to share with others. For me, this was a dream job. These women worked hard to fulfill their commitment to The Shoe Project, and to be a part of that was an honour.

Happy 10th anniversary!

 

Helen Rolfe is a writer and professional editor who won acclaim for her book Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei, the life story of the first woman to climb Mount Everest. Helen is also the author of Women Explorers: One Hundred Years of Courage and Audacity, a collection of portraits of pioneering women adventurers.

Learn more about Helen Rolfe

 

Katherine Govier

Founder, Board Chair of The Shoe Project, Toronto ON

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Katherine Govier


Founder, Board Chair of The Shoe Project, Toronto ON


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Katherine Govier’s answer. 

 

People ask me why I have taken on this work—why when I’m busy, when I could be doing my own writing, when I could be holidaying in Mexico, when adult immigrants to Canada whose first language is, say, Tamil, are so difficult to coach as writers in English. 

Here is the reason: I love it. Meeting women aged 18, 30 or 65 from China and Croatia and Syria and Afghanistan and South Sudan and Brazil and Russia is huge fun. It’s travel without the security lineups. Instead of at Pearson Airport, I’m lining up for the butcher at 5 a.m. in Poland in the 1980s in minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit weather—and I’ve got Relaks boots on my feet. (Look it up.*)

I sometimes sit there around the table where we drink our tea and laugh and cry, and imagine large cartoonish bubbles over the heads of the 12 of us. Ancient alphabets—Persian, Russian, Chinese, Hindi—float around in these bubbles like arithmetic equations, as the women work to put their ideas into English. Except that it isn’t like arithmetic at all because there are no true equivalents between thoughts and feelings in one language and those in another. Little is exact. Everything is shaded, interpreted. 

Maybe that’s why shoes work so well. They alone seem solid. They look, sound, feel, operate, represent, decorate, and define us—all over the world.

I’ve met so many great women. And I’ve seen the Japanese and the Turkish members strike up friendships, the Syrian mother take the Afghan girl under her wing. 

Do you, as a writer, ever think that writing your own stuff is not enough? Even when you’ve got a new novel in the stores?

I do. By the way, please read it.

People think it is literacy, not literary.  

Can we consider a new thought: this distinction is a form of discrimination. It is like racism. The writing of a person who does not use the correct adverb or misses the past tense of a verb or chooses a generality because she doesn’t have the broad vocabulary of a native English speaker is deemed not publishable, not artistic, not worthy of the support of the literary establishment, the granting agencies, not worthy of the time spent to fix it by newspapers or radio. It is pushed downwind into “literacy”— which means “there are ESL issues”; it doesn’t count, and can’t be published. But with advice from peers around a workshop table, coaching, editing, and copyediting—which, frankly, native English speakers need too—that same story becomes vital, informative and urgently to the point. Great stories are lost between languages.

But not in The Shoe Project. 

 

* Please follow the link to our interactive map. Select the country Poland in the dropdown menu. Click on a pin to read the story.

Learn more about Katherine Govier

Leah Cherniak

Voice and Drama Coach, Toronto ON

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Leah Cherniak


Voice and Drama Coach, Toronto ON


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Leah Cherniak’s answer.

 

I have worked in theatre all my adult life—as an actor, director, teacher and coach. Part of what I love about working in theatre is the necessary act of creating community. It happens so quickly in most rehearsal halls. There is an intimacy in making a play. You gather with others daily for long hours and weeks to discuss themes, ideas. You inhabit characters and play them with each other. You find understanding together, building something, making something and finally sharing it all with an audience. The rehearsal time is short and intense. The cohesion is powerful and so often joyful.  

I experience much of this intimacy while coaching the women in The Shoe Project.  There is great joy and excitement in working with each participant individually. We get to know each other rather quickly because of the questions, observations and conversations that a story provokes. Together we gain an understanding of how each story can find its way from the written page to a performance on a stage. We explore and practise how to tell their story, with the intention of standing in front of a live audience to communicate it effectively. And this offers me the privilege of getting to know each of the Shoe Project women through the search for clarity and authenticity in each story. It’s a delicate act, finding a comfortable and personal way to live on stage and tell one’s story. Often between the storyteller and the audience, an intimacy is also felt, a friendly and powerful exchange. I love watching this happen in a Shoe Project performance. 

I am grateful for my many years of coaching the women in The Shoe Project. Through their stories, I have been offered insights into a part of each of the extraordinary women who participate. And in the process of coaching, they have taught me so much about courage, determination, humour and hope.  

 

Learn more about Leah Cherniak

 

Momoye Sugiman

Writing Mentor, Toronto ON

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Momoye Sugiman


Writing Mentor, Toronto ON


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work? This is Momoye Sugiman’s answer.

 

Back in the summer of 2011, Katherine contacted me about her proposal for a women’s memoir writing workshop focusing on shoes as a launching point. What an exciting concept! When she asked me to recommend students for the first cohort, I knew exactly which women to approach. As an ESL teacher, I recognized the writing potential of countless students, many of whom were fairly quiet in class but expressed themselves with raw emotion and lucidity in their personal writing.

I was thrilled when Katherine invited me to sit in on the meetings at the Bata Shoe Museum. For the first four years, I attended them regularly. I remember wishing that I were an immigrant woman so that I could workshop my own unfinished stories in the warm intimacy of those Thursday evening sessions. The atmosphere of camaraderie and empathy that developed among the participants was exhilarating and inspiring. It was the kind of atmosphere that I used to cultivate in my ESL classroom before the emphasis on benchmarks and assessments—and before technology became an obsession. Over the years, it became harder to provide my students with opportunities to develop their creativity and bond with each other. Given my frustration with the growing bureaucracy of the education system, it was inevitable that I would be drawn to The Shoe Project.

Over this past decade, I’ve had a variety of roles—from secretary and recruiter to copy editor and ESL coach. I’ve also introduced Katherine to some wonderful women: Mariana of Brazil, Irena of Poland, Filiz of Turkey, Sayara of Afghanistan, Jie of China, Lianny of Cuba, Sheida of Iran—and various others. Having known these women when they were still struggling to establish themselves here, I can see how the Shoe Project experience has been profoundly transformative. I’ve been enthralled by the powerful narratives of all the participants.   

I am happy that this valuable initiative is still thriving despite the COVID cloud. We need The Shoe Project now more than ever. I cherish my association with it. Thank you, Katherine!

 

Momoye Sugiman was born and raised in Toronto. She is a veteran ESL teacher with a keen interest in anti-racist education and a passion for helping newcomers nurture their creativity and empower themselves. She holds a BA in English Literature, a Certificate in Teaching ESL and an MA in Immigration and Settlement Studies. Momoye has written various articles and edited two books featuring oral histories.

Nan Hughes Poole

Voice Coach, Canmore AB

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Nan Hughes Poole


Voice Coach, Canmore AB


Banff mezzo-soprano Nan Hughes Poole was the voice coach for The Shoe Project in Canmore that ran during the pandemic in 2021. For those who haven’t met Nan yet, she’s an incredibly warm person who immediately makes you feel at ease. She gives the participants all the tools they need to tell their stories in front of a big audience and in a language that is not their mother tongue.

In this video, Nan Hughes Poole tells us how this experience was for her.

 

Learn more about Nan Hughes Poole

 

 

Sarah Weatherwax

Voice Coach, Toronto ON

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Sarah Weatherwax


Voice Coach, Toronto ON


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Sarah Weatherwax’s answer.

 

I wrote something at the beginning of the rehearsal process about the 10th Anniversary show, for this show: 'Listen with an open heart. Learn with an open mind. Let compassion guide your steps.' And last night, sitting on my front porch, I said to my spouse, 'These women carry the world's pain in their hearts, the world's horror stories in their memories.'

By writing their stories, they can release some of their pain. By speaking their stories, they can change the world.

 

Sarah Weatherwax, originally from the U.S., now works as an actor and voice teacher in Toronto, Ontario. As a private voice/audition and on-set acting coach, she works with both singers and actors. She has taught group classes at Humber College, at various studios—and online with actors around the world. In addition, Sarah has done voice work on numerous shows and has been involved with Workman Arts, a unique company devoted to fine arts training for people struggling with addiction and/or mental illness.

 

Learn more about Sarah Weatherwax

Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

Performance and Voice Coach, Vancouver BC

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Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg


Performance and Voice Coach, Vancouver BC


We invited The Shoe Project mentors and coaches to respond to the following question: Why have you taken on this work?  This is Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s answer. 

 

I look forward to working with the women of The Shoe Project every year! The learning and inspiration we find in the rehearsal hall, or even on zoom, is profound. This learning goes both ways. I feel honoured to be part of the process of getting these important stories to the page and the stage, or the recording studio as was our process during COVID. 

As I’m an artist, my first language is movement, then voice. But I do not separate the voice from the moving body. The stories these women have lived are contained within their bodies. Through the outstanding mentorship of writer Caroline Adderson, these stories find their way to the page. Then along with my coaching partner Alison Mathews, it is my job to guide these words back into the body and then onto the stage.

As a settler of Eastern European, Ashkenazi Jewish, and British ancestry, I find myself wondering about the stories of my grandmothers and great grandmothers that I do not know, that were never told. In so much of history, the women are a footnote as the wife/mother/sister of the male protagonist, often without more than a first name—if that. Throughout time, so many women's stories have been lost to the privilege of the male perspective. The Shoe Project stops us all in our tracks to bear witness to the paths walked by these women, and thus our own ancestors. 

Every year I am privileged to meet a new group of courageous, inspiring writers with stories that need to be told and need to be witnessed. I am proud to serve this work. 

 

Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, is an award-winning and innovative performer, choreographer, director, writer, and artistic director of Tara Cheyenne Performance. Working across disciplines in film, dance, theatre, and experimental performance, she is renowned as a trailblazer in interdisciplinary performance and as a mighty performer "who defies categorization on any level". In addition to  her own creations, Tara has collaborated with many theatre companies and artists,  including Bard on the Beach, The Arts Club, Boca De Lupo, Ruby Slippers, The Firehall Arts Centre, Vertigo Theatre (Calgary), and Silvia Gribaudi (Italy). Tara lives on the unceded Coast Salish territories with her partner, composer Marc Stewart and their child Jasper.

 

Learn more about Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg

 

Let’s share more stories. Together.

The Shoe Project was launched in Toronto in 2011. Since then, we have added chapters in Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax, and are now a registered charity. We are committed to providing a truly national platform for the voices of immigrant and refugee women.