(CNN) — When Anowa Quarcoo and her husband moved to Toronto, they realized they didn’t “feel welcome and we didn’t know how we fit into the community.”
In a sea of foreign-born residents, who come from over 100 countries, they were frustrated by what they saw as a lot of stereotypes and discrimination.
“The more we thought about it, the more we realized that the city of Toronto needed to do more to create a space for everyone and to open up opportunities and opportunities to help everyone feel that they belong in this city,” Quarcoo says.
Inspired by her curiosity, she has set out to help people feel more at home in the city by building an online platform to connect immigrants and refugees to resources and services, and by working to improve their experiences through volunteering.
“My business is called Astana123 — the exchange market in Toronto, which is my brainchild,” she says. “It’s one of the biggest platforms in Canada for making money and connecting new immigrants.”
Important things about growing up
On the website, as well as participating in discussions, people can connect with professionals and start their own “triad” — basically a job board with topics like travel, cooking and child care, as well as Canadian language and culture — in which they can advertise their services or help each other.
Quarcoo says the goal is to make Toronto more welcoming and inclusive. CNN
Many of the forums started by people who live in Toronto (as opposed to refugees, immigrants or asylum seekers) focus on personal development, self-help and things like interviewing for a job, finding housing or reading books or movies.
“The biggest common thread we’ve heard over and over is ‘I didn’t know where to go for help or I didn’t know if my community supported my cause,'” Quarcoo says.
On the anniversary of the United States’ election of President Donald Trump, Quarcoo’s focus is not only on refugees and immigrants but also on racial, cultural and gender equality, she says.
The broad platform she and her team have built is meant to connect people in one place with activities that encourage living a better and fairer life.
Accurate information about what services are available and how to use them is helpful. Toni Kinney/CNN
“We were not the first to build an exchange marketplace, but we are the first to have a stable platform for everything,” Quarcoo says.
One reason why she sees the platform as so important is the racial underrepresentation in the immigration process and the lack of accurate information on what services are available and how to use them.
As a result, people often experience unfulfilled expectations, increased anxiety and stress, and unnecessary discrimination when they arrive in Canada, she says.
Providing accurate information about what services are available and how to use them is also helpful, Quarcoo says.
“We have an immediate impact on the society, on the city, and it’s a gift.”
Quarcoo and her team are working to reach out to more communities and to do more work with academic institutions and civil society organizations so that more information about the website can be updated and more forums can be started.