CAIRO - Muslim activists in Toronto are holding special events to help newcomers to adjust to life in the metropolitan Canadian city and connect their families to the community.
"We have peer mental-health survivors, who discuss how they've settled, Camille Mohammed, coordinator of the North American Muslim Foundation's program, told Toronto Star on Saturday, February 16."They have the same kind of background and experience as some of the newcomers, so they feel more comfortable interacting and discussing what they're going through."
Mohammed is among Muslim coordinators for a special program for immigrants in Toronto.
The project, themed "Circle of Health Wellness Program for Newcomers", offers support and vital information for new immigrants.
The program would gather 500 Muslim immigrants to help them adjust, emotionally and physically, to life in the city.
The program also includes, as part of the Family Day, kids' activities, films and booths for small businesses and entrepreneurs, in addition to smaller food and health promotion workshops.
Among newcomers would be the Ahmed family, who moved to Toronto from Saudi Arabia in 2011, and the Iqbalhs, who arrived from Pakistan just last May.
Sabina Ahmed, for example, had problems with her meat-loving husband, Riyaz, who did not want to change his diet.
It was really tough because of the job, the stress, she says.
The family was offered tips for healthy eating and living at the free bi-weekly Circle of Health workshops that began in December.
The sessions tackle issues such as stress management; the effects of food on mood; and healthy ethnic cooking.
Mohammed, the program coordinator, has also developed the sessions and materials in Urdu, Farsi, Dari, Hindi, Mandarin and Telugu languages.
Family Day is a statutory holiday occurring on a Monday in February.
In the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan, it is observed on the third Monday of February, occurring on February 18 this year.
As the dietary habits engaged many newcomers, mental health components were even more important and complex.
"There is a big stigma attached, Mohammed said.
I knew that was something I wanted to address and I knew it wasn't being addressed in the Muslim community."
Facing new challenges about employment, housing, culture, climate and language, it was normal for newcomers to face stress, anxiety and sadness.
Gulshan Alibhai, of the Canadian Mental Health Association, was five when her family came from Uganda.
Her parents thought they made good food choices with fast food.
When I go and talk about my experience, they almost always have an aha moment, she says.
They start looking at how the junk food and fast food affects their mental health.
Session leaders are able to refer participants to outside resources.
The major thing that it is providing is taking people out of isolation." Mohammed says.
The sessions have already benefited some Muslim families in Ontario province.
For Salma Iqbalh, who immigrated with her husband and two teenage boys, the sessions have helped connect their family to their community.
For me and my husband, it is a big change, she says.
The Ahmad family has also benefited after changing their dietary system to allow more vegetables, little fruit and no whole grains.
Feeling light after meals, the biggest change for Sabina was with her husband who has lost weight.
As for the diet, Now it's easy, she says.
Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the country.A recent report from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said that Muslims are expected to make up 6.6% of Canada's total population in 2030.