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Libraries welcome newcomers with open arms

Language barriers and social isolation are among several factors newcomers may experience as they settle in their new environment. Local libraries have developed programs tailored to those needs, such as language clubs and referral services. Libraries in Surrey, Burnaby and Coquitlam offer outreach programs such as interactive ESL and volunteer programs to help them navigate their new community.

In hopes of providing support for newcomers, the Government of B.C. created NewToBC services in 2012, bringing the community an active outreach program called the Library Champions Project. In partnership with the Surrey library, this initiative is an outlet for Canadian immigrants who want to help their peers.

According to Branka Vlasic, Library Champions Project Trainer, there have been 14 cycles in Surrey with the next on Sept. 15.
“Basically, after four training sessions champions outreach in their communities, connecting with newcomers and providing information about library and community services,” says Vlasic.

The first training entails the experience of a newcomer in order to identify issues, questions and communication skills. The second training provides library program information to the trainee so they can offer the adequate program to each newcomer.

Vlasic says that since the new library champions may have difficulty presenting, public speaking skills are addressed in the third session. Finally in the fourth session, participants learn about community resources and how to do outreach effectively since they will be on their own after they complete their training.

Looking back on her time as a facilitator, Vlasic describes her experience as lucky and lovely.

“I’m really lucky because I get to meet people who really accomplish things in their lives and then they come here and they want to do something in order to help others, in order to feel like they want to belong and make a home out of this country for themselves. So, it’s really enriching for me personally to be part of the process for each one of them,” she says.

Jenny, a participant of the previous cycle, speaks about her experience.

“Overall, I think it’s a wonderful thing to say that it’s uniquely designed. You would never know the library would offer that much to new immigrants,” she says. “I think the program is wonderful.”

Lila, another participant, also expressed her enthusiasm for the program.
“The duration of the program is three months – it’s short. Because it happens so fast, it makes the session entertaining and meaningful and you do not want it to end,” she says.

Lila applauds the program for being very accommodating to her needs. In spite of being a newcomer with a basic level of English, her husband is invited to stay during the training to assist with Lila’s English. She says her peers have been very welcoming and compassionate towards her.

By Vinh Nguyen |

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