Society for the Aid of Community EMpowerment (SACEM) was founded in 1983 with the then name Society for the Aid of CEylon Minorities. SACEM was founded to help the community members adapt and integrate into Canadian society at a time when there was a surge in the arrival of Tamil speaking refugees from Sri Lanka. Canada was home to a small group of Sri Lankans at that time. Members of the Tamil community who arrived earlier felt the need to assist their fellow Sri Lankans settle comfortably and start a smooth transition in their new homeland in Canada. The group decided that the most efficient way to carry out this task was to facilitate a seamless transition into their new surroundings.

As time progressed the needs of the community changed. SACEM followed suite and changed its focus to empowering our community to adapt to their new environment. As a larger population adapted to Canadian society, the focus then transitioned to empowering them to face challenges in becoming an influential group within the Canadian society.

Transition phase 1980s

The new arrivals were welcomed and given the information and assistance required to finalize immigration, finding a place to live, acclimatizing to new climatic conditions, finding a job and networking within the community, and providing comfort and care for one another.

During this phase, one of the landmark projects SACEM participated on was to promote and foster a community cooperative home project near Lansdowne at 20 Wade Avenue, which has run smoothly for the last 31 years. The project was government funded and required the formation of a housing committee to manage the operation. SACEM had a few rooms allocated in this building to temporarily house the new arrivals for a prescribed period of time until they could find a suitable place to live.

Adaptation Phase 1990s

In the 90’s SACEM focused on helping the community adapt to their new environment. Some of the projects included a partnership with family service association and a series of health projects for the benefit of the Tamil community at Wellesley hospital.  A large Tamil population resided within this vicinity. Programs conducted in this phase include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Heart ailment
  • Arthritis
  • Nutrition
  • Family violence titled “Towards harmony in families”
  • Parenting in Canada
  • Professional family counseling training for community members

One of the opportunities that SACEM identified for the community during this phase was to help the emerging small businesses within the community.  SACEM organized a “Small business seminar” in 1991. A Committee was formed at that Small Business Seminar to assist the businesses within the community and assist them in their growth. That committee ultimately became the seed for the formation of Canadian Tamil Chamber of commerce (CTCC) and both SACEM and CTCC shared the same office building for sometime.

Realignment and Integration phase 2000

In the early 2000 SACEM shifted its gears again to empower the Tamil community to integrate fully into Canadian society while preserving their cultural identity. Some of the projects in this phase include:

  • Responsible citizenship
  • Enlightened parenting
  • Our youth and Job opportunities
  • Meaningful integration – discussion group
  • Training in volunteer leadership
  • Internet training
  • Computer skills training to help youth enter workforce

Support programs were also established to assist with:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Prevention of family violence
  • Rehabilitation of law offenders
  • Drug prevention

Success and reinvention phase 2010

In spite of our successes, SACEM felt that a segment of the population was still left behind either socially and/or economically. To address this need, building capacity within the family units at the grassroots level was felt. SACEM partnered with Tamil One TV and launched a weekly program “Athatkum Appaal” (meaning “Beyond the vicinity”) on community issues. This program brought the issues to the family room in households. The format of the program was two groups supporting opposing views on a given topic for viewers to understand both sides. This program helped viewers to see different viewpoints, causes and effects, and how some have successfully addressed such issues. One key area this program successfully targeted was building trust between immigrant parents and adolescents.

Another important area SACEM felt, it need to address was mental health. Mental health was taking a toll on the community, where suicide rates were on the rise. However the social and cultural stigmas prevented families from coming forward and seeking help. To address these issues SACEM with support from the Scarborough Twilight Rotary Club launched 3 consecutive programs in three years to shed light on the issue, such as symptoms, early intervention, diagnosis, prevention, managing of mental health issues and how to seek confidential assistance. The programs were titled:

1. Breaking the Barriers in Mental Health -2015

2. Defeating depression -2016

3. Mental Health – 360o vision – 2017

Looking ahead, Infrastructure and influence phase 2021

SACEM’s focus in moving ahead in 2020 is looking ahead and empowering our community reach excellence. The programs will focus in four areas.

  • Continue to focus on the challenges of the present such as Covid-19 and its impacts on the community
  • Mental and physical wellbeing including Yoga
  • Focus on empowering the younger generation to achieve excellence through mentoring, networking, employment opportunities etc.
  •  Needs assessments and building an infrastructure for the community to succeed
  • Reaching out to other communities to partner and run co-programs in establishing a close relationship and acting on common causes