An Empower Me member delivers a workshop helping participants to understand their FortisBC energy bills. (Empower Me / Submitted)

Bridging the language gap between immigrants and home efficiency programs

There are plenty of efficiency programs available through governments and utilities, but they can be hard to access for immigrants who don't speak English or French

By Dustin Godfrey | August 27, 2021 |5:00 am

A social enterprise co-founded by a Burnaby woman is seeking to connect immigrant households with climate and home efficiency programs.

Yasmin Abraham, co-founder of Kambo Energy Group and the Empower Me program, which seeks to bridge the language gap between energy efficiency initiatives and new Canadians. Abraham described Empower Me as “Canada’s only climate and efficiency program designed specifically for and provided by members of multicultural and multilingual groups.”

“We hire people from immigrant and newcomer populations and communities and train them on climate and energy and efficiency programming and education. And then they go back out into their own communities to share that information,” Abraham said.

The program was launched 10 years ago, as “a reaction to what we saw in the market,” she said, adding that there are plenty of environment- and climate-related programs available to people.

“But if you don’t speak English, and if you don’t access information online, it’s really hard to access these programs,” Abraham said. “And so we were really seeing that there’s a lot of British Columbians that were left out of a lot of the programs and services that many other people were able to take advantage of.”

Translation and workshops

Empower Me, she said, seeks to help people in BC and Alberta to access those services, whether they need translation or education on how to access them, as well as to be able to better understand their energy bills.

“We find that a lot of people who immigrate to Burnaby or Lower Mainland, they’ve never lived in a home with a thermostat before. They’ve never lived with a furnace or an air conditioner or heat pump,” Abraham said.

“So there’s lots of things that a lot of us take for granted but a lot of people just don’t know.”

With the summer coming to a close, Abraham said the service is particularly useful, before energy bills rise during the winter months.

“That’s really the time that we really want people to know about the programming and education that’s out there, so that they can reduce their bills, [and] they can make their homes more comfortable and safe,” she said.

“I think COVID has, of course, had an impact on everyone, but certainly for some of our more vulnerable communities, it’s impacted them harder and worse. And so I think anything we can help with for those communities to help them save a little bit of extra money, it’s always good for them.”

Meeting climate goals

What’s more, she said it helps communities and the country as a whole to reach closer to climate change goals.

Climate change is expected to increase catastrophic weather events, such as the devastating fire season in BC this year and the deadly heat wave that hit the province in June.

A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found the world is already locked into climate change, with consequences now no longer a question of “if” but “how bad.”

However, the report did note that there is still plenty of room to mitigate those consequences.

Empower Me does workshops in multiple languages that can help participants learn how to read their BC Hydro and ForitsBC bills.

“If people need a little bit of extra help signing up for programs, we will translate those forms for them, we will help them pick out contractors. Really, it’s that concierge service for folks,” Abraham said. “So it’s a combination of education and translation and really just being there to help people take advantage of those [programs].”

City of immigrants

Although Empower Me doesn’t work directly with the City of Burnaby, as it does with other municipalities, Burnaby is among the most multicultural municipalities in the country, being one of just a handful with no majority ethnicity.

According to census data, a majority of Burnaby residents’ mother tongues are neither English nor French, and nearly 80,000 people reported speaking a non-official language most often at home.

And a majority of Burnaby residents (just over 115,000) reported immigrant status, with another 13,000 identifying as non-permanent residents. And of those with immigrant status, over 16,000 arrived within 5 years before the 2016 census was completed.

“We do work a lot in Burnaby because of you know, there is a strong population of folks who might need a little bit of extra help,” Abraham said. “So I would encourage anybody, if they speak English or not, to reach out to us if they’re looking for help to read their bills or if they want to come to our workshop. Everything is free. We’re trying to make sure that everybody has the information that they need.”

Some programs around energy efficiency, which are generally delivered by various levels of government, as well as by energy utilities, are income-tested and even free for families who need it.

“We want to make sure people who do qualify for those programs are able to take advantage of it,” Abraham said.

  • For support navigating the website and accessing the Energy Coach in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi or Farsi visit: energychampion.ca
  • 如需以廣東話、國語、旁遮普語或波斯語獲得網站導覽協助和「節能指導」服務,請瀏覽: energychampion.ca
  • 如需以粤语、普通话、旁遮普语或波斯语获得网站导览协助和“节能指导”服务,请访问: energychampion.ca
  • ਕੈਂਟੋਨੀਜ਼, ਮੈਂਡਰਿਨ, ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਜਾਂ ਫਾਰਸੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਵੈਬਸਾਈਟ ਨੂੰ ਨੈਵੀਗੇਟ ਕਰਨ ਅਤੇ ਐਨਰਜੀ ਕੋਚ ਤੱਕ ਪਹੁੰਚਣ ਲਈ ਸਹਾਇਤਾ ਲਈ energychampion.ca ‘ਤੇ ਜਾਓ।
  • برای دریافت کمک و پشتیبانی جهت استفاده از صفحات وب‌سایت و دسترسی به «مربی مصرف انرژی» (Energy Coach) به زبان‌های کانتونی، ماندارین، پنجابی و فارسی به اینجا مراجعه کنید: energychampion.ca

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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