Helping “The Canadian Way”
When retired schoolteacher, Charles St-Louis, saw the devastating images of of Syrian refugees, like many Canadians he stepped up to help. He volunteered with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI), one of the lead agencies responding to the influx of 1,500 Syrian newcomers to Ottawa.
He quickly put his teaching skills to work as part of one of the CCI’s conversation circles, sitting around a table at a housing complex on Donald Street (where many of the Syrians have settled), helping his new Syrian friends learn English. Sometimes there were 20 people around the table, all anxious to learn or improve their English, a first step to integrating in their new hometown.
One of his students was Mohammed Ali, who had fled his home in Damascus with his wife and three children six years ago. They spent years living in a tent camp in Jordan, before being selected to come to Canada in February 2016.
Mohammed had worked as a nurse in Damascus for 20 years. His English is progressing well. “Learning English is my key to finding work. The CCI language circle has really helped, especially Charles who is so patient and kind.”
Charles has really taken the Ali family, who recently welcomed a baby girl, under his wing. “Charles is always helping my family and has become my best friend,” remarked Mohammed. “He has helped my children with their schoolwork. He even takes us to appointments. Without Charles, adjusting to the culture and language in Canada would be so much more difficult. He personifies the true face of Canadian generosity.”
Mohammed has himself become a community organizer, teaching Syrian newcomer children to paint. The group “Children for Peace,” recently raised $5,000 for CHEO by selling their paintings. At the cheque presentation on June 30, 2017, Mohammed and Charles were there, celebrating this great example of children giving back to children.
As Canada’s 150 approaches, Mohammed and Charles are busy volunteering together organizing Canada Day celebrations in the neighbourhood, because that’s “The Canada way.”