The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. –Gustave Flaubert
Alright, so I already sort of know what I believe in, but I truly love the act of writing it. I have so many thoughts and opinions on things that it’s extremely therapeutic to type them all out.
When I look at my 26-year-old self and compare it to my 20-year-old self, not too much has changed. I’m still immature, afraid of the dark, have a terribly dry sense of humour, and laugh when people get hit with something. But there have been a few changes and I really feel that those began when I started working at the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council or MJMC.
Working with refugees and immigrants was and is one of the best experiences I have ever had. It has changed my entire viewpoint on the world. Here I am, working with people from Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, Russia, China, Eritrea, Korea, the DR of Congo, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Egypt, Libia, Pakistan, and others that I can’t remember. It was like I was travelling around the world all in the comforts of an office.
Being a Settlement Worker was completely different work than what I’m doing now in Employment. As a SW I was responsible for picking refugees up from the airport, getting them into a hotel, providing orientation on that hotel (among everything else), getting them registered in English classes and their children in schools, obtaining their SIN cards, Healthcards, Driver’s Licenses, etc. We had to take their for doctor’s visits and deal with whatever those results were. I have seen more blood tests and explained more fecal samples than I care to remember. I’ve held children who are sick with Malaria and TB. I have been there when the doctor breaks the news that someone has hepatitis or HIV. I’ve found housing, moved multiple families, multiple times, shopped for food/clothing/accessories/necessities/wants. My job description was 3 pages long.
Most refugees move through three phases of integration when they come to Canada. First they are very excited and are amazed by everything that Canada has to offer. Second, they fall into a depression (some deeper than others) over the fact that they are struggling, can’t find work, can’t grasp the language, miss their families, miss their culture, have family issues, have health issues, the list goes on and on. Finally they come out of this and sort of level off. But this can take months, even years. Every case is unique.
One thing that was common among every arrival : gratefulness. Everyone I worked with was so grateful of everything I did for them and all of the opportunities they now have. They really are an inspiring group of people. I admire their drive, their motivation, their determination to survive. It is so humbling to work with refugees.
I used to give Cultural Sensitivity training throughout Moose Jaw. In my presentation I would ask that everyone imagine that outside of the four walls they are encompassed in is a war. It could be a physical war, there are gun shots and bombs going off. It could be a political war, you may have to hide what you believe in to stay safe. Regardless of what type it was, it threatened your life and you risk being imprisoned, tortured, or killed because of who you are and what you believe in (could you imagine me in that situation? I would have been executed a time ago). Now you are forced to leave, for the safety of yourself, perhaps your children too. You go to a refugee camp where you live from 1-30+ years. There’s not much hope in these camps, no schools, no stores, no normalness. You sit there, in your hut, compromised of the few possessions you had time to grab or room for and hope for a new day. During this time you may apply for relocation. This is along process composed of 6-8 interviews, medical screenings, applications forms and meetings. Then one day, you’re approved, so you hop on a contraption and fly you across the world feeding your food you’ve never seen before and speaking in a language you don’t understand. You land and there’s a skinny, blonde, white girl waiting for you anxiously. She blabs on and shakes your hand (that’s me!) You go to a hotel and over the next few days are bombarded with so much information that your jet lag doesn’t even stand a chance at surfacing.
Next imagine your life now. Every morning you wake up, get dressed in your familiar clothes that you bought a regular store, and can find anywhere. You eat your breakfast that you’ve grown up knowing and eating and again, can find anywhere. You go to work and follow the route your familiar with. At work you talk with co-workers and complete your tasks based on how you’ve been raised and what your education has taught you, you go home and relax, maybe you have a hobby you do, whatever it is, it’s what you love. Now imagine every facet of that life gone, flipped around, a complete 180. You can never ever find your clothes that you love to wear. The food is okay, but just isn’t the same as what you’re used to. Your favourite childhood meals are a thing of the past. Your workplace is filled with people who don’t speak your language and sometimes it’s hard for you to understand, as you listen in english, translate it in your head to your language, form a response in that language and then translate it back to english before you speak. You aren’t sure how to treat people or how they should treat you. Your home is nothing like the one you once had, and your hobbies don’t exist here. Can you imagine how difficult that would be? How it would make you feel? I have said before that I would kill for my Mom’s roast beef and yorkshire pudding.
This is what being a SW taught me. Things that you think are a big deal, really aren’t. And when I’m stressed out or upset, I try to remember these things that I’ve learned.
People are so quick to judge. I have seen more people complaining about accents and people’s capabilities to speak English than I can count. MOST of the time, people ARE speaking English, it’s just that they have accents, and an accent is simply your first language seeping through. Every single newcomer to Canada I know has taken some sort of English training, and I assure you, they’re trying their best. Sometimes you need to be patient. Actually, you should ALWAYS be patient. It truly is the one and only thing that will help you and help them understand. If you say a word they don’t understand, don’t repeat it over and over, getting louder as you go, try a different word. It’s not rocket science. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine being plopped in a different country with a different language and how much you would appreciate their patience as you learn. Be accepting of other culture’s customs. If you don’t understand, don’t be ignorant, do some research.
As Canadians, most of us are only a few generations from being immigrants ourselves. Our ancestors would be ashamed of the way some of us are treating new immigrants to our country. By 2020, StatsCan estimates that 100% of our population growth will rely slowly on immigration. So you better get used to it, start fine-tuning your hearing for an accent, start to understand the different customs, and refer to my last blog about being arrogant and ignorant.