Here are 3 Stories:
Written by Jon Roland
- Six months ago Sayid, his wife, Kamar, and their two sons arrived in Markham, Ontario. 18 months earlier they abandoned their family business and fled the only home they ever knew. Men with guns were approaching their city claiming they were creating a new country with new laws. Anyone who disagreed with them disappeared. They left with what they could carry and sold their vehicles to pay for a trip to Egypt where Sayid worked as a labourer for whomever would pay. They moved to Markham when a group of strangers sponsored them as refugees.
- Chen moved to Markham about the same time. Her brother and aunt had already moved to the area. Her family had raised enough money for her to come next so she decided to move with her daughter to look for better work opportunities.
- The same day, Ekram and his wife, Yasemin, arrived in Markham. The company he works for has offices in many countries but the head office is based out of Markham. His work was such high quality at his local office that he was able to earn a promotion and big pay raise by moving to Markham.
So we have 3 different stories on 3 different paths that lead to 1 destination.
Sayid’s family was safe and, for the first time in nearly two years, they were moving toward financial independence. He could not understand why he had this feeling that everything his family was building going to be taken away. He and his wife were fighting more than they used to. He was getting angry a lot easier and was frustrated almost every day. Kamar wasn’t laughing as much as she used to and she seemed sad most of the time. He thought these feelings would go away for both of them as their English got better and as the numbers in their bank statement began increasing each month. Instead, they felt miserable and emotionally stuck.
Chen had started learning English before she left and was getting better. She understood most words, but felt like everyone around her talked too fast. She felt embarrassed when she saw the confused facial expression that was all too common when she spoke English to someone. She started spending more time at home and was experiencing the greatest loneliness of her life. Six months after arriving in Markham, she felt like she had no friends.
Ekram and Yasemin already spoke some English when they arrived, but had never needed to use it on a regular basis. After six months of English classes, they could get by in most conversations. Despite that, they still felt overwhelmed whenever they went shopping or needed to go to the bank. They barely traveled outside of their neighborhood. Public transportation seemed so different from home and neither could figure out where to begin the process of trying to get a car or a driver’s license. It felt strange not knowing simple things and, to avoid looking foolish, they stopped trying to meet new people and spent most of their free time at home.
These three stories are not unique. New and similar stories emerge every day as newcomers arrive from all over the world. These newcomers can readily get help searching for jobs, finding a place to live, and learning English. As beneficial and practical as those services are, many newcomers would trade them all for a new friend or to not feel so angry, scared, or depressed.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health. For newcomers, the biggest unmet need is loneliness. Second, and closely related, is no opportunity to process the emotional baggage that comes with being a newcomer. Especially needed for refugees, there is little opportunity to process the grief and anger that comes with fleeing your homeland with other people who have experienced the same thing.
The Markham Newcomers Network (MNN) provides care and connection for newcomers. At the same time, MNN wants to meet the practical needs of newcomers like Chen, Sayid, Ekram and their families.
This care and connection is provided through three opportunities:
- Language Cafes: These informal, drop-in style cafés are an opportunity for newcomers to meet one another and practice conversational English. The main purpose of these cafés is to create a space for newcomers to build friendships with other newcomers and the volunteers. Language cafés are free to attend and held multiple times a week. They are not intended as a replacement for classroom-based English instruction, but rather an opportunity to build fluency for those who already have been through formal English language instruction.
- Life in Canada Group: This group meets weekly for 8 weeks and allows participants to build friendships with one another while learning about their new home. Registration is required. Each week will explore different topics such as shopping, transportation, winter, and the school system.
- Newcomer Care Group: This group meets weekly for 12 weeks at a time and allows participants an opportunity to make friends and process the emotional hardships of moving to a new country. Registration is required. This is an ongoing group and participants are welcome to participate for as long as they want to. Participants will need to register again every 12 weeks when the opportunity is made available for new people to join. An experienced councilor will facilitate this group to help the group learn practical strategies for dealing with the emotional challenges of moving to a new country. This group was designed for refugees but is open to other newcomers who are experiencing similar challenges.
MNN is a program started by the bridge, a local church in Markham, to address the needs related to loneliness and the emotional struggles associated with moving to a new country. Anyone may participate in any of the MNN programs regardless of cultural or religious background and it is intended to be inclusive of all newcomers without exception. Participants from different religions, cultures, or political backgrounds are expected to treat each other with kindness, humility, and respect.
Information participating in the Language Cafés, Life in Canada Group, and Newcomer Care Group can be found at www.newtomarkham.com. Volunteers are welcome.