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Cumming School takes parenting research to Bangladeshi community

Initiative sees health experts working through science to promote healthy kids and positive parenting
March 9, 2017
Mohammad Lasker, of the Bangladesh Canada Association of Calgary, second from left, with representatives from the Cumming School of Medicine: Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, Mahzabin Ferdous, Mashrur Kazi (practicum student), Roger Thomas, and Syed Walid. Photos by Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, Cumming School of Medicine

Mohammad Lasker, of the Bangladesh Canada Association of Calgary, second from left, with representatives from the Cumming School of Medicine: Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, Mahzabin Ferdous, Mashrur Kazi (practicum student), Roger Thomas, and Syed Walid. Photos by Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, Cumming School of Medicine

Members of the Bangladeshi community heard about childhood development at a recent workshop organized by the Department of Family Medicine's Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group.

Members of the Bangladeshi community heard about childhood development at a recent workshop organized by the Department of Family Medicine's Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group.

About 50 people turned out to a strip mall in northeast Calgary on a Saturday afternoon to hear about childhood development, take notes and ask questions about everything from bedtime stories to symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

“You’re actually going to medical school,” Dr. Roger Thomas, of the Department of Family Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, joked to the crowded room at the Bangladesh Centre as he went through slide after slide of research about parenting and childhood disorders.

Thomas is the first of a series of health experts to speak at workshops organized by the Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group, which is part of the Department of Family Medicine and in collaboration with the Bangladesh Canada Association of Calgary (BCAOC). This initiative is part of a larger, long-term community development effort in support of the Cumming School's Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement.

Root-culture has strong influence

“It’s important that we start working together,” Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, PhD, told the men and women in the room, switching between English and Bengali. “We are pushing ourselves toward our own well-being.” Turin, an immigrant himself, is a public health researcher who is working with immigrant and refugee communities in Calgary to engage them to identify problems and come up with solutions to the challenges of moving to a new home in Canada.

“We bring our root-culture with us, which has a strong influence on how we live life here,” says Turin. “That creates an interesting and challenging environment when we try to guide our children. Parents struggle but don’t have the tendency to ask for help when torn between the two cultures.”

For example, traditional South Asian child-rearing is authoritarian, where children don’t have much freedom. But in Canada, we are less authoritarian parents. “It’s a completely different style,” says Ahmed Shaheen of BCAOC. “I have to be relaxed with my kids and have to give them some freedom to think for themselves. I didn’t get my freedom at home.”

“Learning about the kids”

People asked questions about ADHD, depression and Tourette’s syndrome. “Tourette’s syndrome, this is the first time I have heard about it,” says Farida Chowdhury, who immigrated to Canada three years ago and works in a preschool. “In our country nobody talks about this one. I have learned a lot,” she says with a big grin.

“Back home, I was a teacher in elementary school with 12 years experience, now I am working in a day care,” says Naznin Nahar, who has lived in Calgary for three years. “I am enjoying the workshop. I am learning so many new things about the kids.”

Little family support and no time

When families leave their countries they also often leave the child-rearing support they get from extended family. And once they arrive in Canada, immigrant parents have to work long hours, and often more than one job, to support their families. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading bedtime stories and other parenting activities. “That is the most important thing in this country,” says Shaheen. “We have to get some time for the kids.”

There are about 8,000 Bangladeshi immigrants in Calgary and most live in the northeast quadrant of the city. More workshops are being planned to help the community learn about child development, mental health and get other information that can further their long-term health and settlement issues.

“We came from a different social environment,” says Shaheen. “As we adapt to the culture here, we have to know how to raise our children in this community so they can adapt. It’s really important that we not follow our back-home ways here.”

Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, PhD, is a researcher with the departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences. He is also a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. His main research interest is improving access to primary care by vulnerable populations, including new immigrants and refugees.

The pressures of our rapidly growing global population are driving unprecedented changes in our social, political, cultural and natural systems. The University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy is addressing our need to understand how we adapt to rapid change, to ensure our security and quality of life.