Dinojah Patkunarajah and Sybill Jules have many parallels in their interests, life experiences, and academic fields, but perhaps the most significant one is their family background. Dinojah came to Canada as a refugee, while Sybill came as an immigrant. In both cases, their parents struggled to establish themselves in their new country, largely due to language issues.
“My parents had to start working immediately and couldn’t go to classes to pick up language,” says Dinojah, while Sybill observes, “My mother was always self-conscious about language, while my aunt had to go to language courses across the city. It was hard to get to classes, there were long wait lists and isolation while waiting, and the classes had to address a large range of abilities.” Dinojah adds, “They put their lives on hold, and their lack of language hindered their ability to thrive.”
Now in third-year Arts and Business, Political Science, Dinojah and Sybill heard about GreenHouse and lived there in the fall of 2015, beginning to explore ideas about how to address this common immigrant experience.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do: Narrowed our scope, focused our idea, and made connections,” says Sybill. “We credit GreenHouse with helping us get good co-op positions that helped us think more about what we wanted to do.”
After a hiatus of two years, the two are back at GreenHouse, with a venture they call MadeIn: Canada, an online platform – a bit like Khan Academy – geared toward helping refugees and newcomers develop language and life skills that allow them be functioning members of Canadian society.
“Being in an environment where everyone is driven to make change encourages us and keeps us accountable. As you see your cohort moving forward, it drives you to move forward,” says Dinojah.
And Dinojah and Sybill hope that their platform will help their own parents move forward: “This is such a personal project for us,” says Dinojah. “I’m hopeful my mom will get on board.”