By Mahshid Rezaei, New Voices Volunteer Program
From Stranger to Belonging
It was a warm summer day when I first stepped into MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver. I was there to meet Andrew Hildred, Volunteer Coordinator, who had reached out to me after I had filled out a form on MONOVA’s website regarding my thesis in urban studies at SFU, inviting me for a face-to-face meeting to discuss my topic.
I eagerly accepted the invitation and arrived at the museum filled with excitement and anticipation. As I entered the museum, I was immediately struck by the vibrant atmosphere and the signs of different North Shore communities proudly displayed throughout the space.
Andrew greeted me with a warm smile, and as we chatted about my academic and professional background in urban planning, I felt a sense of belonging and inclusiveness that I had never experienced before. Our conversation felt like a conversation between old friends, and I was thoroughly impressed by the knowledge and passion that Andrew brought to the table.
As soon as I stepped into the main gallery, I was struck by its warm and inviting atmosphere. The design of the space was so beautifully done, and it was heartwarming to see signs of different North Shore communities displayed throughout the museum.
As I walked through the museum, I was particularly moved by the section dedicated to Iran. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that this museum was not only showcasing different communities, but it was also inviting them to be a part of it. I felt like I, as an immigrant, was truly a member of this community.
Voices of Diversity: North Vancouver’s Newcomers
It was then that I realized that MONOVA’s “Voices of Diversity” program was the perfect match for my research on the topic of sense of belonging among Iranian immigrants in North Vancouver.
I joined the program in mid-June and eagerly awaited the start of the project. The program was soon joined by a team of six other volunteers from different communities including South Korea, Hong Kong, Pakistan, and Iran from September. My husband Farhad Rahgozar, as an IT specialist and professional photographer, also joined the team and brought valuable skills and expertise to the program.
Getting to know and working with this diverse group of volunteers was a truly enriching experience for me. I felt like I was part of a family, and together we all helped each other to bring our skills and expertise to the table.
As we worked on the project, I was also conducting academic research for four months about the museum’s level of success in involving the First Nations in the museum’s development process. This success was confirmed by a thorough evaluation of the museum’s development. My research gave me more confidence in the museum’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and I have been collaborating with the museum ever since.
As volunteers, we worked on a theme that we were passionate about. Our interviews were professionally recorded, and photos were taken to be displayed in the exhibition at the museum alongside our interviews.
Working with the New Voices team was an enriching experience. We all came from different backgrounds and cultures, but we bonded over our shared passion for improving the quality of life for immigrants in North Vancouver.
I was proud to be a part of this project and did everything in my power to contribute. I offered ideas for content, helped with marketing, participated in interviews, introduced the program, suggested guests, and even had the honour of choosing the name for the program. I suggested “Voices of Diversity” and, with the approval of the entire team, it became the official name of the project.
As a member of the City of North Vancouver’s multicultural task force, I have the opportunity to regularly meet and work with the Mayor and City Council, as well as the city’s key organizations and businesses. So, I took advantage of the opportunity to introduce our program to the council and officially invite them to our opening, and they generously demonstrated their passion and support, which will undoubtedly add a special touch to the event.
As the project progressed, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and satisfaction. The MONOVA team, under the careful guidance of Andrew Hildred, worked tirelessly to bring the project to life. The interviews were recorded, the photos were taken, the subtitles and translations were completed, and marketing videos were made. And, at the time of writing, we were just a step away from the big reveal.
Join the Journey: Be a Part of the Experience at MONOVA
Looking back on my journey with MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver and the “Voices of Diversity” project, I can only feel gratitude and happiness. I formed bonds with my fellow volunteers that will last a lifetime, and I was able to contribute to a project that holds a special place in my heart.
I highly recommend this experience to anyone looking to make a difference in their community and form meaningful connections with others. It was an emotional, positive, and life-changing experience that I will never forget.
The New Voices exhibition Voices of Diversity: North Vancouver’s Newcomers tells the stories of seven newcomers to North Vancouver through photography and video. The exhibit explores themes such as belonging, food culture, sense of place, public art, photography, youth culture, and architecture from a newcomer’s perspective.
The exhibit will be on display at the MONOVA: Archives of North Vancouver (3203 Institute Road) until July 28, 2023. Viewable by appointment only.
The New Voices Volunteer Program is generously supported by the Kitty Heller Memorial Fund, held at Vancouver Foundation, Deux Mille Foundation and Lohn Foundation.
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.