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Updated: 13th October 2019 15:19 Calgary

$1,400 a month or less? Immigrant seniors capture financial lives in photos

Eleven immigrant seniors were given cameras and asked to document their financial lives as part of a project designed to challenge stereotypes and give policy-makers fresh information on a topic rarely covered, the lead researcher says.

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'Financial literacy is a huge part of any poverty reduction strategy,' researcher says

One immigrant senior took a photo of a grocery store produce section to highlight the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, as part of a financial literacy project. (Submitted by Ilyan Ferrer, Yeonjung Lee and Mohammad Khan)

Eleven immigrant seniors were given cameras and asked to document their financial lives as part of a project designed to challenge stereotypes and give policy-makers fresh information on a topic rarely covered, the lead researcher says.

"Financial literacy is a huge part of any poverty reduction strategy," Ilyan Ferrer told The Homestretch.

"We wanted to juxtapose that with the actual experiences that older immigrants are facing because there is such a dearth of literature on this topic."

Ferrer led the two-year project — Exploring the Financial Literacy of Older Immigrants in Calgary: A Photovoice Project — which culminated in an exhibit at the National Music Centre this week.

Ilyan Ferrer is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Calgary. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

An advisory board including service providers recommended seniors who might be interested. They were asked to point, shoot and document.

"Some would be obvious, like the high cost of produce, but a lot of people took photos of their workplace. Many people were retired, some in their 70s and 80s, but had to continue to work," Ferrer said.

Depending on how long they've lived in Canada, some qualify for old age security and guaranteed income support of roughly $1,400 a month.

Others are "structurally dependent" on their adult children sponsors and get less or nothing.

"And for a lot of other people, they just don't get it. They are not eligible because of the 10-year dependency period," he said.

The public library can be a great resource for newcomers, and it's free. (Submitted by Ilyan Ferrer, Yeonjung Lee and Mohammad Khan)

Employment skills that aren't transferable, along with language barriers, can further complicate things.

"A lot are greeters in major retailers, daycare workers, retail. Most were highly educated in their homelands, where they were teachers and engineers."

Saima Jamal co-founded a volunteer group that evolved into the Calgary Immigrant Support Society that works to connect newcomers of all ages with resources to support them.

A Facebook page has become "a newcomers bulletin board."

"The dialogue and conversation that takes place in this group shows the extreme generosity and understanding Canadians have toward newcomers," Jamal said.

"It regularly showcases success stories and struggles of newcomers in a way that Canadians get to know them better and take pride in working, volunteering and helping them."

One project participant photographed this Calgary shopping centre to represent one aspect of financial literacy, that choices and sacrifices are sometimes needed. (Submitted by Ilyan Ferrer, Yeonjung Lee and Mohammad Khan)

Meanwhile, Ferrer says a common theme emerged from the photo project that could challenge some stereotypes.

"We want to offer a counter-narrative to how Canadian society views older immigrants. They are meaningful contributors to our society," he said.

"As researchers, we also want to engage in policy change. We want to start a conversation about how draconian immigration policies can be."

With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch

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