(Photo left to right: Kim Davison, Kadijah, Wafaa Aun, and Nadia Almeshal)

“Remember the words ‘snow storm!’  When you hear these words you know that it will be very cold and that the snow will slow everything down and there might not be any school buses…”

This important heads-up about the Canadian winter comes from Nadia Almeshal, a Syrian volunteer who is taking part in “Listen, Talk, Learn and Practice English.”  It’s a weekly get-together between volunteers and newly-arrived Syrian families. This one takes place in the social room at the Donald Street apartment building, where newcomers chat with volunteers in conversation circles, while their children do arts and crafts.

Nadia helps translate when necessary and provides important context for expressions like snow storm.  Nadia already spoke English when she arrived as a privately sponsored refugee in 1993.  She has completed her studies in office administration at Algonquin College and volunteers with CCI in office administration and as an Arabic translator.  “This is my way of giving back and thanking Canada for helping Syrian refugees.”

Kim Davison is one of the newer volunteers. She trained back in April to help with CCI Ottawa’s resettlement efforts.  Kim sits by a large window with Wafaa Aun and her 10 year-old daughter Kadijah.  Both are making great progress and say the words Kim shows them on flash cards.  Although Kim isn’t an English teacher, she uses creativity, lively body language and sounds to convey the meaning of the words on flash cards she has prepared for today’s lesson.  “It is the best ‘job’ I have ever had!  I come here every week with a big smile on my face and leave with an even bigger smile.  It has been amazing,” she says.

The volunteers have been coming here every week for the past four months. Some have been involved with CCI Ottawa for many years; while others signed up to volunteer when the government announced Canada would be receiving 25,000 Syrian refugees.  The groups were set up to create ongoing opportunities for newcomers to work on their English skills, and have an informal way to ask questions and learn about life in Canada in their own neighbourhoods.

Tell us about your volunteer experience with Syrian refugees.  We would love to hear from you!