Social Connectivity
in Burnaby

By using photography as a research tool to spark group discussions, newcomers in Burnaby explored how COVID-19 has affected social connection, and the roles community organizations can have to help us feel more connected.

The Burnaby PCN Social Isolation Working Group (SIWG) is conducting community-based research, investigating how to increase social connectivity in Burnaby during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond to guide Burnaby’s mental health strategy.

The research is split into two phases with Phase 1 (Fall 2021) conducted in English and Phase 2 (Spring 2022) conducted in Tigrinya, Farsi, and Chinese to reach some of Burnaby’s most isolated individuals. The group sessions involved community members self-identifying as isolated recent newcomers of racialized communities, who shared their experiences of social isolation using Photovoice research methodology (a mix of photography and discussions).

The research findings provided insights to the SIWG on how Burnaby community organizations can address barriers to connectivity and how they can build on the opportunities discussed by the community members to ideate innovative and sustainable solutions.

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Social isolation can be described as the “disengagement from social ties, institutional connections, or community participation” (BCCDC, 2019) and is a known social determinant of health for many health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and premature mortality. 

Social isolation is linked to, but is different, from loneliness; social isolation is the objective separation from other people; whereas loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone as defined by the National Institute of Ageing.

Social connectivity is the opposite of social isolation; it is a sense of belonging to a group or community and is associated with having personal relationships and engagement with the broader community. 

COVID-19 related restrictions have made social isolation worse for most, however, racialized newcomer communities may be made more vulnerable. Yet with all this knowledge, there is limited data on how community agencies can promote social connectivity!

Below are photos describing some of the recent experiences of social connectivity and social isolation that were experienced by participants.

Recent Experiences of Social Connection

Recent ExperienceEnglish GroupFarsi GroupMandarin GroupTigrinya Group
Loss of day-to-day routine and hobbiesxxxx
Using tech to connect with othersxxxx
Quarantine; spending a lot more time indoorsxxxx
Feeling unwanted; perceived unfriendliness from othersxxxx
Feeling isolated in public spacesxxx
Stress and frustrationxxx
Loneliness during the holidaysxx
Time spent outdoors in nature as an escapexx
Using tech to work/study onlinexx

Barriers to Social Connectivity

BarrierEnglish GroupFarsi GroupMandarin GroupTigrinya Group
Fear of catching COVID-19xxxx
Distance from family and/or core supportsxxxx
Travel restrictions and costxxxx
Feeling uncertain in a new cultural environmentxxx
Perceived racism & public fearxxx
Language barriersxxx
Drawbacks of using techxxx
Inconvenience of protective practicesxxx
COVID-19 safety recommendations – impacts on child developmentxxx
Weather making it difficult to socialize outsidexx
Poor mental health and/or lack of motivationxx
Competing priorities (e.g. school, work)xx
Cost of livingxx
Lack of understanding/ hostility from social supports outside Canadaxx
Closure of existing programming due to pandemic restrictionsxx
Loss of employmentxx

Opportunities for Social Connectivity

OpportunityEnglish GroupFarsi GroupMandarin GroupTigrinya Group
Increase awareness of existing programsxxxx
Leveraging tech to connect socially, and increase access to health and social servicesxxxx
Positive mindsetxxxx
Nature as an escapexxx
Return to in-person programming with safety measuresxxx
Language supportsxxx
Offer innovative program ideas – e.g. that celebrate culturexx
Regular, continuous programmingxx
Increase accessibility of programs; minimize restrictive eligibility criteriaxx
New job/ volunteer opportunitiesxx
Talking about negative feelings with othersxx
Small acts of kindness from neighboursxx


This project was presented at a community event on November 3, 2022, hosted as a partnership between Immigrant Services Society of BC, Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table, Burnaby Together: Coalition Against Racism & Hate, Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Burnaby Primary Care Networks, Burnaby Division of Family Practice, and Shared Care.


We are thankful to all our many community members who spent their time sharing their experience and thoughts with our team.

We would also like to thank our partners, listed below:

Primary Funders:

Simon Fraser University – Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi)
Vancouver Foundation – Convene Grant

Community Partners (Burnaby Social Isolation Working Group):

Burnaby Division of Family Practice
Burnaby Family Life
Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table
Burnaby Neighbourhood House
Burnaby Public Library
Burnaby School District
Burnaby Together – Coalition Against Racism & Hate
Fraser Health Authority
Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC)
Pacific Immigration Resources Society
Tian-Jin Temple
United Way
YWCA Techlink

In-kind resources provided by:

Burnaby Division of Family Practice
Burnaby Primary Care Networks
Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC)
Burnaby Neighbourhood House
YWCA Techlink


Principal Investigator:
Dr. Surita Parashar

Research Advisor:
Anna Vorobyova

Lead Researchers:
Azra Bhanji ([email protected])
Catherine Trudeau

Phase 1 Co-facilitators:
Azra Bhanji (English)
Catherine Trudeau (English)
Dhanashree Sangaokar (English)

Phase 2 Co-facilitators & Translators:
Binega Markos (Tigrinya)
Isaias Moges (Tigrinya translator)
John Tesfamichael (Tigrinya)
Lena Nobakht (Farsi)
Lin Lin (Mandarin)
Shayan Abbaszadeh (Farsi)
Shokouh Farshidfar (Farsi)
Sunny Yang (Mandarin)
Yodit Habte (Tigrinya translator)

PCN Community Engagement Coordinator:
Andrea Creamer ([email protected])

Key Community Lead:
Thea-Lynne Fiddick

Community Consultants:
Ana Maria Bustamante
Gisela Briceno
Gulalai Habib
Margaret Manifold
Melody Monro
Pilar Sain
Sangeeta Bhonsale
Veronica De Jong