Stranger in the LandMay 26, 2014
By Pamela George
Packing your bags, bidding goodbye to friends, family and the mores you have known until then, and pitching your tent in a faraway country where everything is alien to you, is surely one of life’s most daunting challenges. Talk to any immigrant to Canada – recent arrivals or old-timers – they will have a story or an anecdote of a Canadian friend or a neighbour who lent a helping hand. This help could have been as simple as showing how to start a lawn-mower or how to lace up skates, or it could involve being a mentor, enabling them to make a successful transition to life here.
In my own early immigrant days, a number of people helped us, in both big and small ways. For example, we heard that a physician at a local health care centre was looking for new patients while chatting to a complete stranger at a bus stop. This tip that a kind stranger passed on helped us find a family physician within a few months of arriving as new immigrants to Canada. We still hang on to her for dear life!
Our neighbours, two elderly sisters in their 80’s, often invited us to their house and over a coffee and some baked goodies, gave us insights into life in Ottawa. They advised us not to let the kids play in the grass (those were the days when pesticides were still widely used), and which grocer to visit to get the best fresh produce. Their son found the time to take us skating on the Rideau Canal and introduced us to that wonderful Ottawa treat – Beavertails.
Who can forget the kindness of those who gave us rides when we needed them, gave us tips on job searches, invited us to their homes and introduced us to Canadian cuisine? We had arrived friendless and with no family in Canada. I am sure that none of these individuals who helped us thought they were doing anything extraordinary. But by their simple act of reaching out, they made an enormous difference to our immigrant journey. It helped us feel at home (“acculturate”) a lot faster and prevented us from retreating into an ethnic silo.
Such bonds forged in the early days of immigration are most often for life. Ottawa-based artist Barbara Gamble once shared with me how she housed two refugee families for several weeks in her house when they first arrived. The grateful families have stayed in touch with her for more than 20 years.
When I heard that WOW 2014 was planning to celebrate the hospitality that makes Canada a great place to immigrate, I was thrilled. I have so many people who I would love to celebrate. It would be a really hard choice to pick just one person who made a difference to my life. I commend this initiative by the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP) to recognize the vital role that a community plays in welcoming the stranger in the land. Welcoming communities need both generous hosts and eager newcomers: it’s a two-way street.
WOW 2014 is looking forward to hearing your story. We would like to hear about one individual who made a difference to your immigrant journey when you first arrived in Canada. It could be your neighbour, your teacher, your landlord, your colleague, your pastor or a perfect stranger who made a world of difference. Submit your story before June 4th and you could be chosen as a WOW ambassador along with your nominee.
Pamela George is an Ottawa-based communications specialist and writer. She blogs at http://immigranthealthcanada.blogspot.ca/