By: Jean Kavanagh
Aftab Erfan was intrigued when she learned that a Vancouver Island First Nation band had approached UBC’s School of Community & Regional Planning (SCARP) for help drafting and implementing their community plan.
“The First Nations band came to the School to propose a partnership, which I don’t think had happened before,” said the SCARP PhD student.
Erfan, a social planner, helped implement a section of the plan that identified parenting as a vital issue in the community. Working with community members, they brought the issue to life in a mural.
Four years later, she is among 25 winners of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Research for a Better Life: the Storytellers Challenge for her work.
“I’m honoured to receive this award, but it is even better to think that I left a legacy in the community that will hopefully remind community members of the work we did together,” said Erfan.
Erfan worked alongside Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Community Planning Coordinator Jessie Hemphill and 40 community members from 2009 to 2012, including a year of intensive fieldwork.
Issues of good parenting arose repeatedly while the plan was developed. The loss of parenting knowledge has been identified as one of the top challenges facing First Nations communities, said Erfan.
Through a series of nine intergenerational workshops where each person offered their own experience and wisdom, seeds for the 6’ by 13’ mural, The Art of Parenting According to Old and New Wisdom, were sown.
“There’s a traditional way of parenting in this community, which is rich but doesn’t quite fit in the modern world,” Erfan explained. “And the western model of parenting also doesn’t work and is culturally inappropriate so we looked at what elements of their traditions they can carry forward to connect with the modern.”
The workshops also highlighted four categories of good parenting practices:
- Nurture a feeling of self-worth in children
- Discipline to teach right from wrong
- Take care of your Self
- Stay connected to your Culture
Erfan knows that 80 per cent of people are visual learners so she felt a mural was an excellent way to share the group’s work with the community.
The mural was designed in the community where the first layers of paint were applied and Erfan, who is also a visual artist, completed the work in Vancouver and returned it to the village of Tsulquate near Port Hardy.
“The mural is beautiful and I hope it’s a quick visual reminder of what we did together. I’m very happy with this work and very appreciative of everything I’ve learned in this exchange,” said Erfan who in 2010 received UBC’s Nestor Korchinsky Student Leadership Award for her work in environmental and social advocacy.
In a world of high-tech communications, Erfan was somewhat surprised that her low-tech submission was recognized.
“Mine is very physical. It’s painted by hand and touchable,” she said.
In addition to the mural, the project resulted in recommendations for the formation of a parent’s advisory committee as part of the Band’s governance structure.
The project also built trust and laid the ground for long-lasting friendships.
“The relationship with SCARP is ongoing so hopefully more students will go to the community,” said Erfan, noting that SCARP has launched an Indigenous Planning stream that is placing students in other indigenous communities around the province.
The $3,000 SSHRC prize includes an invitation to a special communications workshop at SSHRC’s Congress 2013 in Victoria in June and the chance to deliver a featured presentation at this year’s World Social Science Forum in Montreal.
SSHRC launched the first-ever Research for a Better Life: the Storytellers Challenge to highlight the very best ideas in the social sciences and humanities – research about people, behaviour, human thought and culture – and how these students’ work will help us understand and improve the world around us, today and into the future.