Immigrants need our support to make them welcome

We are a welcoming community - and to that end you're invited to a huge celebration planned for June 30 at the Sechelt Indian Band Hall.

In honour of Canadian Multiculturalism Day, the local immigrant community is inviting everyone to come to a free party from noon to 4 p.m.

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There will be ethnic food, music, arts and crafts from noon to 1:30, performances and stories from 1:30 to 2:30 and after that dancing, drumming and singing until 4. Everyone is welcome.

Every year about 50 immigrants come to the Sunshine Coast from such far-flung places as the Philippines, South Africa, the Orient and South America. For many of them it's a chance to escape oppressive political regimes and bone-grinding poverty.

Maria Giltrow, the settlement and outreach coordinator for Welcoming Communities project, was an immigrant just eight years ago. And while Giltrow came to Canada from Argentina with excellent language skills to be with her Canadian husband, she well understands the loneliness and alienation newcomers can feel in a new country.

Giltrow and Sandy Middleton, ESL head for Capilano University, recently met with Coast Reporter to outline some of the challenges new arrivals face and ways for former immigrants and native Canadians to welcome all comers.

Giltrow is new to her job and is eager to welcome everyone to an open house this Friday evening, June 21, at the Community Resource Centre at 5520 Trail Ave. in Sechelt at 6 p.m. The no-cost event, designed as a meet and greet, is an opportunity for immigrants to meet others and for established community members to come and make important connections with new people.

It's not always easy for newcomers to meet others, Giltrow said.

"Mom is working two jobs, dad is working two jobs, the kids are struggling in school, and the family ends up isolated," she said.

In many instances the newcomers make connections to the ESL program at the university through word of mouth. And that can be crucial for anyone arriving here with limited English language skills. It means the person is unable to buy groceries, bank or seek adequate medical services.

That's where Giltrow's work comes in. She emphasized that all immigrants are welcome to come to use the completely free services the Welcoming Communities project provides.

"We are friendly and welcoming and deliver services in a sensitive, confidential, non-judgmental manner. Whatever they share with us is safe with us," Giltrow said.

Although the main office Giltrow works in is in Sechelt, she said that location does not stop someone from using the services.

"We are flexible; a meeting can be arranged at other locations on the Coast," she said.

She has a call out for volunteers to be part of the project as well. "We would welcome successful [past] immigrants for an informal support system. We would love community interpreters, [community] members who speak a second language who could give the gift of their time to new immigrants," she explained.

Another feature she encourages is volunteer hosts -long-term Sunshine Coast residents to help newcomers meet local residents and learn about Canadian life and culture. If you're able to help or passionate about welcoming newcomers, call Giltrow at 604-865-0170 or email welcome@sccss.ca.

The ESL program and Welcoming Communities project are made possible through the provincial government. But all that will change at the end of next March. That's when the federal government will once again administer immigrant programs.

And while Middleton has been reassured by folks in Manitoba doing the same work who recently made the change back to federal funding, she still worries that the needed services currently provided could be scaled back or cancelled.

"It's going to break our hearts if it stops," Middleton said.

To show your support for the program, contact MP John Weston at John.Weston.c1@parl.gc.ca to let the federal government know.

Giltrow, who became a Canadian citizen a year ago, gets misty-eyed whenever she hears O Canada. Her reaction to her adopted country is not unusual among new citizens.

"It's so inspiring for us as Canadians to see why others love our country," Middleton said.

Come to the Sechelt Indian Band Hall on June 30 and see that inspiration first hand. You may just make a vital difference in the life of a new friend.

© Copyright 2018 Coast Reporter

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