MONTREAL—Immigrating to Canada isn't always easy, especially when you don't speak English or French. The Afghan Women's Centre of Montreal has been helping bridge the gap for a decade, with creative ways to empower women.

“I feel that my food is very delicious and the others enjoy and eat it,” said Najia Osman, a member of the centre. Offering cooking classes to the general public, the experience helps Osman feel confident and independent.

Makai Aref founded the centre 11 years ago, with the hopes of creating a meeting place for women in the community to grow and integrate into Canadian society. Aref also created an Afghan catering service, which fosters job skills and provides income for the women.

This kind of work has been a passion of hers for 20 years, even while she lived in her war-torn country.

“This is my dream, this is my wish to make something for women,” said Aref, who helps the group provide exercise classes, cultural events, workshops and English classes.

“Last week we did a special session just on how to talk to the doctor and describe your physical ailments,” said English teacher Jennifer Lonergan. “It’s an empowering issue to me. It’s a way they become more autonomous and feel less dependent on others.”

According to Asmah Hamnawa, the classes have helped her with grammar, writing and speaking. The independence is important she says, for a community facing such serious issues.

“Another challenge is family violence, they have a lot of problems and they are looking to find a space to come to open their hearts,” said Aref.

It all hit too close to home with the recent Shafia case in Kingston, a horrifying instance of family violence.

“This class is important for me, for all my friends, why? Because we are studying in the one class, I find friends,” said Hamnawa.

Those friends are giving each woman a sense of belonging in a place so far from home.