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Column: Seniors Centre Promotes Diversity and Inclusion

Shaama Centre for Seniors and Women serves a diverse population in Edmonton. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

One of the key challenges facing seniors organizations is ensuring the diversity of our city is reflected in its policies and practices–something The Shaama Centre for Seniors and Women understands well. As a non-profit seniors organization, the centre has deep roots in the community and has been working with Edmonton’s ethnocultural communities, and specifically the South Asian community, for over 20 years.

“The types of diversity that we see are cultural, socioeconomic, age, religion and disability,” said Shaama Centre Executive Director Sofia Yaqub. “We ensure our services are offered in culturally relevant ways and we are respectful of all cultures. The staff and many of the volunteers are familiar with many of these cultures and languages.”

The Shaama Centre is uniquely positioned to support immigrant, refugee, and newcomer seniors who find that existing seniors programs don’t serve them. Indirectly, mainstream supports and services have an isolating effect as they aren’t equipped to respond to the unique cultural, dietary, and social needs of newcomer seniors.

“People can observe the diversity present at many seniors centres and compare it to the population,” said Sofia. “It's evident there is not enough outreach, and for numerous reasons, ethnocultural seniors don’t feel comfortable.”

To address this programming gap, the Shaama Centre provides culturally sensitive educational opportunities, social and recreational groups, health and wellness programs and language and skill- building classes. Additionally, the centre helps newcomer seniors make the right connections by providing outreach services and help navigating systems.

The Shaama Centre celebrates diversity on an ongoing basis by providing cross-cultural gatherings. One of these is the Interfaith Multicultural Celebration, an event that opens the door for people from different communities to celebrate and learn about the diverse faiths practised here in Canada. By bringing cultures together, there is opportunity to develop friendship and understanding; to see humanity in others and build bridges.

Elevating the voices of immigrant, refugee, and newcomer seniors is a key priority for the Shaama Centre. When immigrating to Canada, newcomer seniors bring with them distinct perspectives as well as a lifetime of wisdom and experience. The Shaama Centre provides an avenue for newcomer seniors to teach others about their heritage, language, arts, and traditional health and wellness practices. The unique insights of the centre’s members are compiled in an annual magazine, “Reflection”, so that others may learn from their wisdom and struggles.

The Shaama Centre is striving toward a future where the city's diversity is reflected across Edmonton’s seniors-serving sector.

“We feel offering diverse programs helps but it needs to be more than a façade, it has to be foundational,” said Sofia. “We also need to ensure that ethnocultural seniors are in prominent positions in senior leadership, hiring and decision-making if we want to change the culture…diversity needs to be at all levels.”

While the Shaama Centre is closed due to COVID-19, they are still active online. To keep seniors engaged and reduce social isolation, the centre is offering online exercise classes, English conversation groups, and craft and cooking classes. A current highlight is an ongoing cooking class every Tuesday at noon featuring delicious South Asian cuisine. Learn how to cook restaurant-calibre dishes from the comfort of home!

To learn more about current class offerings and to register, call 780-465-2992 or email

Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council is part of Age-Friendly Edmonton. The Council writes a column for each issue of Alberta Prime Times.