It was 20 years ago when Louise Crandall volunteered with Local Host, a program at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.
A lot has changed in those 20 years. But what hasn’t changed is how Louise feels about volunteering.
“What is interesting about volunteering is you form lasting relationships. For example, I am still friends with refugees and immigrants I was matched with during the past 20 years. Last week I had lunch with a woman from Bolivia who I was matched with six years ago.”
The Matching Program pairs volunteers like Louise with newcomers. Sometimes the matches are individual to individual but we also match families to families. The volunteer helps the newcomer adjust to life in Canada. They might help them in their job search, practise speaking English, or find activities they can enjoy with their families.
As a volunteer, Louise says it’s heartwarming and inspiring to see newcomers create a good life from scratch.
“A good friend of mine was a refugee who I got matched with 26 years ago. I met her when I first arrived and now she lives in Gatineau with her husband and kids. The family is doing extremely well.”
Louise says it’s not difficult being a volunteer and the rewards are unimaginable.
“As a volunteer I’ve helped newcomers settle into Ottawa, helped them find a computer, showed them Ottawa, practised English with them, helped them with resumes,” adding these are just simple, concrete things anyone can do to help a newcomer.
“For a number of years I was involved in English conversation circles, which I really enjoyed. The circles taught me about a lot of cultures. We (volunteers and newcomers) would choose our own topics and were always talking about whatever came into peoples’ mind.
“The best day that comes to mind is when I brought a book on archaeological sites and the newcomers talked about archaeological sites from their native homes. They were so excited and we all learned something about each other’s geography and famous buildings from their different homes.”
Louise has learned there are two things a newcomer needs to be successful; one is for a newcomer to have a grasp of English, and secondly, to have the right attitude.
“The first generation struggles but their kids tend to do great. One family I volunteered with from Africa have built a successful life here in Canada. The children are doing tremendously well. One is studying to be a doctor, the other an accountant.”
Louise says another benefit of volunteering is learning about food from other cultures.
She was matched with a Syrian family who loved to cook and spoiled her with Syrian food. “Currently, I am matched with an Iranian woman who likes cooking Iranian food. I’m so interested in learning more about her food. As a volunteer, you just learn so much about culture and politics and even food.”
As a volunteer, Louise is proud that Canadians have been always a welcoming society.
“The attitude of Canadians towards immigration has been really good. A few years ago, we welcomed so many Syrians; in the 70s, they welcomed the Vietnamese. Canada has done well in helping people in need. Every couple of years there is always waves of refugees seeking help.”