“The real magic happens behind the scenes,” says Here Magazine Director of Photography John-Evan Snow, in our “About Us” video. He further explains how the work of Here Magazine goes beyond the magazine itself. When we think about 2019 and all the projects, events, and connections we’ve made, it is hard to believe that everything happened in the same year. It is all about collaboration, and Here Sessions and Here Lab are the products of how we can find solutions, improve our strengths, and understand our barriers as a diverse community.
First, it is important to understand what Here Sessions and Here Lab are. Here Sessions is a series of discussions offered by Here Magazine to members of the community seeking an open and safe space to discuss topics surrounding multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion. Here Magazine supports these initiatives from planning the event and its structure, providing volunteers and promoting the event. It is a way to establish valuable connections within the newcomer community.
Our other initiative, Here Lab, is a mentorship program offered to newcomers, immigrants, and refugees to build their skills on writing, photography, and videography. It is a collaborative platform that enables attendees to become contributors and share their newly acquired skills through storytelling. Both platforms—Here Sessions and Here Lab— allow newcomers to overcome their barriers by giving them a platform for their voices to be heard, and deepen their sense of belonging in Canada.
The very first Here Sessions—initially branded as Here Talks—happened at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) with the topic, “The Canadian Dream: Expectations and Reality.” The second one, in partnership with Royal Roads University, was entitled, “World Café: A Community dialogue to explore the topic of leadership and culture.” Both of these dialogues were roundtable discussions, which was a great way to establish a safe and comfortable environment for participants to share different opinions and perspectives.
The third Here Sessions, in partnership with Organizing Against Racism and Hate (OARH), happened at the Baumann Centre, Pacific Opera Victoria, was about racism in Canadian elections. Panelists Dr. Penny Bryden, Dr. Lisa Gunderson, Tanya Clarmont, Councilor Sharmarke Dubow, and Aftab Erfan guided the discussion in raising awareness on racism and how it affects the electoral process and its impact on Canadian politics.
The last Here Sessions in 2019 was entitled, “LGBTQ+ Immigrants in Victoria,” at the Imagine Studio Café. Led by Sergio Ramos and facilitated by Serena Bhandar, the session centered on challenges the community faces in Victoria, in terms of finding a safe space to hold such dialogues, connecting and socializing with other members of the LGBTQ+ community, and accessing services to support their mental and physical health and getting jobs. The attendees bravely shared their perspectives in their journey of moving to Canada and the realities they have faced here.
The Here Lab had the opportunity to offer two free workshops this year. The first one, “Writing: helping you bring your story to life,” took place at the Greater Victoria Public Library. Creative nonfiction writers Christin Gaell and Sarah Hammill took the lead in guiding the participants with the main concepts of writing and technical tips to help them build strong stories. Some of the writers got their stories published on the Here Magazine website. We intend to continue building this network of newcomer writers, for them to strengthen their language skills and to find healing in the process of storytelling.
Our second Here Lab— “Understanding Exposure, Lighting and Composition”— was held at The Dock with John-Evan Snow as mentor. The workshop helped the participants understand the basics of studio and street photograph. The workshop was divided into two sessions: theory and practice photo shooting. Continuity is always our main goal through the workshops we promote. Therefore, after this Here Lab, we have had the opportunity to work with some attendees as volunteer contributors during the events we hosted and/or supported. It is a great way to connect and introduce them to the community through their interest, skills, and talents.
Collaboration is key. That is the magic behind our magazine and the power of sharing stories. There is no better way to overcome our barriers and find actual solutions than finding meaningful connections. We believe that as long we are able to talk with each other in a respectful way, we can make a difference. We are looking forward to the next Here Sessions and Here Lab initiatives, and you can be the one leading it. Your story matters, your voice is louder than you might think.