“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “No Future Without Forgiveness” (1999)
I’ve been an immigrant for the better part of the 36 years I’ve been alive. I’ve spent my entire life navigating new spaces, adjusting my perspective, learning new languages, eating new foods and most importantly, trying to figure out who I am in the multitude of contexts I consider a privilege to have been a part of. By the age of 16, I had lived in 7 countries and barely knew the intricacies of my own country of birth. Making friends and forming a community as a nomadic introvert certainly had its challenges.
One aspect of my culture that has travelled with me is the concept of “Ubuntu”. Ubuntu means more than community. It’s a Nguni/Zulu term often translated as, “I am because we are.” The term places utmost value in how your intrinsic humanity serves the greater good. It’s also sometimes translated as human kindness. Nelson Mandela offered this anecdote in an interview when asked about its meaning: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend to him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
The YW’s answer is a resounding yes! The concept of Ubuntu resonates with me on a personal level, but as YW Calgary has moved and settles into the new YW Hub facility, its significance is even more compelling. 2013 was a pivotal year for many local businesses, organizations and individuals who were adversely affected by the flood. It was the proverbial nail in the coffin of a building that was already falling apart. YWCA’s Fitness on 5th took the hardest hit and yet our empty pool didn’t have a single drop of water in it.
It should come as no surprise that the new YW Hub facility became a clear need after this challenging period in the organization’s history. We had to ask ourselves all of the tough questions. Being considered a leader in the community, one of those questions was, ‘Where are we now and where do we want to be?’. Sometimes the answers to those questions came with a visceral realization that we were further from where we wanted to be than was comfortable to admit. But we knew the community that relied on us was watching and waiting and we had a responsibility to attend to them. We also owed it to ourselves and the women we support to continue growing, adapting and improving. All of this considered, we used our vision for a safe and equitable community to propel us.
The YW Hub facility is not merely a new building and postal code, but also an intentional response to a call to action from the community around us and the type of community we aspire to build. The new YW Hub was designed and built with our mission in mind. The open work spaces are representative of our collaborative partnerships. Wider hallways in Transitional Housing depict the space for growth and offer a more residential ambiance. Wall to ceiling windows in the classrooms encourage imagination and serve as a reminder that what we learn has wider value. Our new childcare centre is a haven for the development of our future community advocates. The thoughtfully curated art pieces that were carefully installed throughout the building boast the diversity of women in the arts. Spaces like the Community Kitchen promote community coming together to create.
We recognize that where we are physically has a direct impact on who we support and how we support them. Creating a space in which we are able to better serve the community is arguably the most important endeavour this organization has taken in my tenure here. While we have earned the right to be modestly boastful of our new 124,000 sq. ft. building, we know the community it was built by, built with and built for is so much bigger.
The YW Hub opens it’s doors Sptember 1, 2019.
Supervisor, YW Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada