Congratulations to Sandra and Lidia, founders of MIE! They have been chosen by a montreal news paper, The Mirror, as two of their 2008 "Noisemakers." The article is below, or you can read it in original format here.
Raising the ethnic eco-consciousness
Mouvement Interculturel pour l’Environnement gets Montreal’s minority groups thinking green.
by CHRISTOPHER DEWOLF
A few years ago, Sandra Lee was a McGill marketing student with a budding interest in environmental issues. Involved with a mainstream environmental advocacy group, she found herself increasingly alienated by what she terms the “camping culture” of the people around her, not to mention the fact that she was the only visible minority in the organization.
It dawned on Lee that concern for the environment, as universal as it might seem, manifests itself in different ways for different people. “A lot of environmentalists grew up with a focus on nature, going hiking and canoeing and stuff like that. I just don’t relate to that culture at all. What I’m interested in is environmentalism as it relates to an urban setting,” she says.
Around the same time, Lidia Guennaoui, another young environmentalist, was coming to a similar realization. Shortly after she graduated with a degree in environmental studies from the Université de Montréal, Guennaoui started work in a Côte-des-Neiges Écoquartier that served immigrants from dozens of countries. She found that she lacked the resources to engage them in environmental issues.“There’s a lot of environmental education we need to do, but I realized that we don’t have the tools to do that. The tools that we have are very unilateral,” she says. “We’re at the stage now where we need to open up more and communicate. We all have our own set of cultural and social references, especially when it comes to the environment.”
Earlier this year, Lee and Guennaoui created the Mouvement Interculturel pour l’Environnement (MIE), a new group that hopes to foster cross-cultural dialogue on the environment. Guennaoui describes it as an umbrella covering various groups focusing on different ethnic communities, including Lee’s own upstart organization, Green Life, which targets Montreal’s Chinese community.
“[Our approach] is to find a person in the community that is interested in the environment and have that person develop a homegrown environmental consciousness,” explains Guennaoui. “If we do that, we can also reach the community papers, which are usually written in their languages. We don’t want to impose a certain way of thinking or acting. Our goal is for that to really come from themselves.”
Green Life is MIE’s most established example of that. Since it was founded by Lee last winter, it has entered into a partnership with the Sierra Club and gained attention from Montreal’s English and Chinese media. Lee has worked closely with Chinatown businesses to improve recycling and waste collection in the neighbourhood.
Many Chinese immigrants, especially those from mainland China, where air and water pollution are serious problems, already have a high awareness of environmental issues. The way they approach them, though, is different from non-Chinese Canadians.
Every culture has its own way of communicating, says Lee. “With Chinese people, you need a less direct, more subtle approach, with more humour. You also have to be more concrete and practical. They need something that touches their daily lives, like their health. If you ask them to save the forest, they won’t listen. It’s really a matter of how you communicate, how you package your message.”