Tamil Co-op opens its doors ever wider

Tamil Co-op Homes has gone through many changes since it was built in 1984, but it has always been a model of what a safe, inclusive and diverse community can look like at its very best. The original purpose of the co-op was to provide housing for Tamil refugees. Over the years, it has opened its doors to newly arrived immigrants from a number of countries, most recently Myanmar (Burma). Today, the largest ethnic groups represented at the co-op include members of Tamil, Burmese, Vietnamese, Filipino and Ethiopian heritage.

Co-op President Nanda Nandanakumar says that in the past, residents thought of the co-op as a first, affordable stop before establishing themselves and moving on. This perspective has changed with a new generation of members who perceive the co-op not as a stop but as home.

Nandanakumar describes the co-op as an extension of the family. “We strive to be inclusive, always. We want to make sure every individual at our co-op knows they are heard and part of our co-op.” Tamil places an importance on engaging young and older members, with education, athletics and childcare.

The co-op encourages cross-learning of members’ cultures and serving members in their first language, fostering a real sense of friendship and kinship.

Tamil members are actively involved in activities outside their co‑op, such as at local resource centres, schools and women’s centres. The co-op also provides space for several community programs.

In 2015, Tamil won CHF Canada’s Award for Co-operative Achievement for its dedication to helping newcomers adjust to their new co-op home and to the larger community.

More recently, the co-op has added a new dimension to its diversity by electing a majority of young members to its board. All the young board members were raised in the co-op. “It was an opportunity to give back to the co-op that raised us,” says Nandanakumar.

The 2016 election drew the highest voter turnout ever, she says, and the board has received great support from their regional federation, CHFT, which provided them with board and chair-training workshops.

Nandanakumar says that with the new board, there has been increased member engagement. She says that at Tamil, it takes at least three meetings to pass the budget.

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