Group Eases Transition for Newcomers: Drop-In Nights Aid Immigrants, Refugees

By Payne, Nancy | Anglican Journal, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Group Eases Transition for Newcomers: Drop-In Nights Aid Immigrants, Refugees


Payne, Nancy, Anglican Journal


The first thing you notice about the small, utilitarian room in the first floor of this dingy apartment building is the noise. The sounds of children playing and adults talking is overwhelming. And then there's the laughter. Lots of it.

There are a variety of faces in the room. Some are Asian, a few are from Latin America, several from Africa and eastern Europe. Many of their conversations are halting, punctuated with blushes and shrugs, while others speak English flawlessly.

It's Wednesday evening in east central Ottawa and most of the 30 people in the room are immigrants or refugees new to Canada. Chatting with them are eight volunteers, some from the Anglican Church of the Ascension, others from partner United and Roman Catholic congregations.

In early 1995, some members of the three churches decided they wanted to get to know their immigrant and refugee neighbours better. They set up informal weekly drop-in sessions. The purpose was to help newcomers practise their English, but also to start building new relationships. "I had lived in Indonesia, and that sensitized me to what it's like for newcomers to come here, and not really know how to reach out and connect," said Ascension's Haig McCarrell, one of the organizers.

They found a room used by a community organization to teach English as a second language, spread the word to students, and started the Wednesday night sessions in October 1995. Newcomers started to drop by, and, as word spread, the room filled up, getting louder all the time.

There are other obvious signs of success, said Mr. McCarrell. "The newcomers used to only interact with Canadians, but now they're talking more to each other, and really building community." So now you're as likely to see a Guatemalan and a Sri Lankan in conversation with a Bosnian, as you are to see a Somali chatting to a Canadian volunteer.

The newcomers nights work precisely because of their simplicity, run as they are on what one volunteer describes as "less than a shoestring."

Volunteers take turns supplying tea and cookies, while newcomers often bring home-made delicacies. …

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