For Michele Fayadas, adjusting to life and a foreign language in Vancouver are still struggles. Originally from France, she left Paris in 2004 to immigrate to Canada with her husband because of safety issues and economic concerns.
“For me, it’s very different,” says Fayadas of her birthplace. “It is good to visit [Paris], but I see it with another view.”
Initially, Fayadas and her husband settled in Quebec City, where she found it difficult to understand the Quebecois dialect. Then, in 2010, her husband received a job opportunity that took them to Edmonton for four months, followed by Vancouver, where they have resided since Sept. 2010.
“It [felt like] a different country,” she says. “The west is very, very different from the east,” says Fayadas.
Hoping to improve her English, she joined the Welcoming Neighbours (WN) program at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (KNH), a non-profit charitable organization located in Vancouver’s west side that caters to people of all ages and cultures.
“The program is geared towards newcomers and welcoming Canadians,” says Julie Rieter, Volunteer Programmer and Fund Developer for KNH. “It’s a bridge between the two.”
Started in Sept. 2010 with the help of funding from Building Welcoming and Inclusive Neighbourhoods (BWIN), the program grew out of the ideas and feedback from members of the local community. When WN finally took physical form, there were two different programs under its umbrella – socials and out-trips and English conversation circles.
While the social trips provided opportunities to explore areas like Gastown and Granville Island, visit places like the Museum of Anthropology, and even learn how to use public transit, the English conversation circles gave participants a chance to practice and learn English in a casual environment.
It was participation in KNH and its programs that assisted Fayadas in making friends and integrating into Vancouver’s community.
“When I share with other people, I learn from these people and I learn about myself,” she says .
Last year, many of the women Fayadas met through Multicultural Women’s Support Group, another KNH program, started their own group, Multicultural Food Lovers. The women, who moved here from countries as diverse as Venezuela, China, Germany, Egypt, and Iran, host a blog and get together to translate and cook the recipes of their homelands while sharing their individual experiences.
Last August, the group applied for and received a Neighbourhood Small Grant from the Vancouver Foundation to create a program that benefits the local community.
For Rieter, this is a perfect demonstration of what KNH is all about.
“We aim to build community capacity,” she says, “That is a prime example of us serving our community and them giving us a wonderful gift in that they are making us available to other newcomers.”
Though KNH has not had funding for the socials and out-trips since March of this year, they still hold the English conversation circles and are currently considering having craft conversation circles where people can come to participate in an activity like knitting or art, have tea and cookies, and practice their English.
“What I continue to find inspiring is how people come from all walks of life and they seem to find commonalities with a welcoming and inclusive environment that [Kitsilano Neighbourhood House] tries to create,” says Rieter.
Fayadas is still learning English, a process she finds both tiring and exciting depending on the day. But she is grateful for the Welcoming Neighbours program.
“For new immigrants, [KNH] is the place you must go,” she says.