“We’re here for support and to make a difference,” says Muna Amir, one of the members of the Surrey Immigrant Advisory Roundtable (IAR).
The IAR was formed by the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) Committee in 2014 so the voices of immigrants would be heard by the City of Surrey. It is made up of members who know what it’s like to leave home and have to adjust to a new way of life in a different country.
“The LIP works with stakeholders in the region to determine what the community needs to be welcoming and inclusive,” says Faisal Durrani, who joined the Immigrant Advisory Roundtable because he wanted to be a positive part of the newcomer experience.
Durrani says the members of the IAR review research and community consultation findings and provide their feedback to shape the city’s future plans. He became interested in the IAR because he likes talking to newcomers.
“I believe my diverse background and experience is so recent that it would definitely add value for newcomers who aren’t aware about the government and non-government agencies who can help them in settling here,” he says.
Durrani came to Canada from Pakistan in 2008. He feels giving feedback to the city will create more immigrant-friendly policies, which will help their settlement phase become better and more effective, all while helping new immigrants feel welcome.
“My vision of Surrey is to make this place welcoming and inclusive by constantly reaching out to the community by way of doing surveys given to us by a research firm hired by the City of Surrey,” he says.
Amir believes helping newcomers adjust to Canadian life is her calling. She arrived in Ottawa as a refugee when she was 15-years-old, fleeing the war in Somalia with her grandmother.
“For me, I was just a kid, I was the safest here, but sometimes I felt alone. Once I started going to school, I made friends – for me I felt safe,” she says.
One of the biggest challenges Amir faced was learning a new language.
“I would use the dictionary. I would have to stay after school or during lunch-time to know what the homework was because I couldn’t understand it. High school was hard for me,” says Amir.
Eventually, Amir got married, had kids and moved to B.C. After she and her husband separated, she became a single mother, raising their four kids on her own.
“One day I decided to volunteer with immigrants. I know what it’s like to struggle, not knowing the language, not knowing the city, not knowing anybody, especially for women. For me, I know it’s not easy to be a parent, especially when you’re a single mom,” she says.
Amir started volunteering to help immigrants and youth because she feels she can truly relate.
“I know what it feels like to feel lost; I can understand what they’re going through,” she says. “Challenges immigrants face are language, culture and housing. They don’t know where to start, who to talk to, where to go…. I just guide them to where they can get help,” she says.
Amir joined the IAR in 2016 where she is a resource for immigrants to help them with their language skills, writing resumes and cover letters, housing and engaging with people about the things they struggle with.
“I have sources now that I can use to help them with school and the language. Together we can make our city different, we can help each other out,” says Amir. “Today there are so many opportunities to help immigrants – there are classes for them to take, the community helps out, everybody is here to help. They’re not alone.”
Making a connection
Dongmei (Lily) Yang came to Canada from China in 2006.
“It was hard to settle down because it was so different. It was hard to fit in and I felt very isolated,” says Yang. “I didn’t have any friends, but I had some English so communicating wasn’t a problem; the problem was, who was I going to talk to?”
Her husband had been raised in Canada since age three so he didn’t understand her struggle to fit in or know of any resources to help her.
“He didn’t know because he’s not an immigrant, so the services I was looking for, he had no idea. He didn’t understand or know strategies to help me,” says Yang.
After enduring unhappiness for a long time, she decided to volunteer.
“Finally I found a group of people who had a similar experience and we shared this experience,” says Yang.
Yang started volunteering with the Surrey Library Champion Program where she found out about the IAR and became a member in 2015.
“We contribute ideas, we have different backgrounds, we discuss what’s best for newcomers, organize events,” says Yang.
Yang says the diversity of the members allows for more people in the community to be reached out to, especially when English is a challenge. She says that through community events, some of which Yang has led, the IAR brings people together.
“Through events we make differences,” she says. “We are able to set up a couple platforms for people to get to know each other and for people to know the Immigrant Advisory so people are aware there are tools for them,” says Yang.
For more info, please visit www.surreylip.ca