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How Local Surrey Communities and Surrey Libraries Are Responding to Meet the Needs of Newcomers

Posted on: April 19, 2021

Learn How the Local Surrey Community is Helping Newcomers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How Local Surrey Communities and Surrey Libraries Are Responding to Meet the Needs of Newcomers

This blog is a continuation of What’s Happening in Surrey for BC Newcomers; a post we wrote earlier this month about upcoming newcomer or newcomer relevant information provided to Surrey newcomers from the Surrey Libraries. Here, Tania discussed her role as a Community Librarian, and her work in helping newcomers connect to the library. Today, Tania shares the Surrey community’s shift to meet changing demands imposed by the pandemic.

How Surrey Libraries Responded to the COVID-19 Pandemic

“The lockdown, initially, resulted in the layoff of many City staff, including myself. I was fortunate to be recalled after we started to reopen, and slowly resumed outreach. We quickly moved many of our services online, offering virtual events and programs and we began to reconnect with partner organizations.

Virtual programs offer both challenges and rewards. Technology can be a challenge to learn and to implement, but we are working through these as we go. I do miss the personal connections that I was able to make during in-person events, and, while I feel like I can connect with people online, it is not the same. Were participants to come to the library now, I would not be able to put a face to the name. Additionally, we have now used virtual programs enough to learn that there are limits. Screen exhaustion is something we need to be mindful of.

On a positive note, virtual programs bypass transportation and childcare barriers that often prevent newcomers in attending in-person programs. Recently, we offered a six-session parenting workshop in partnership with Options Community Services. It was full each session with zero attrition. One mum even showed up to the session the morning after giving birth! When we offered this program in-person, it was difficult for participants to attend each session. 

The Biggest Challenges Newcomers to Surrey Face

The Biggest Challenges Newcomers to Surrey Face

Nearly half of Surrey’s newcomers arrived in the last 5 years. 11% of Surrey immigrants are refugees. There is a lack in our ability to communicate properly in a newcomer’s language. Refugees in Surrey speak languages such as Amharic, Arabic, Karen, Kurdish, Somali, and Tigrinya, which are different languages spoken from other immigrants who move here. Newcomers also face discrimination due to their citizenship status, race, language, gender, health, or education.

These factors make it difficult to access services such as access to housing, childcare, transportation, food security, and health care. The changing structure of service delivery to online models, provides further challenges. We have found that digital access is a big issue for many newcomers.

How Have Programs Adapted to Help Newcomers During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Digital access has long been a barrier for Surrey newcomers. This became urgent during the pandemic as all programs and services went virtual. The inequalities in access to resources, learning, and information is striking. When we locked down, newcomers were cut off from their supports and resources. This resulted in

  • Food insecurity and fear of losing housing,
  • Loss of access to learning and the learning community,
  • Mental health challenges resulting from physical distancing,
  • Difficulty accessing benefits, and
  • Gender-based violence and isolation for newcomer women.

As time moved forward, we found non-profits and community-based groups stepping forward to help. Some of the ways they pivoted were:

  • Phone call check-ins and phone support to help people access services,
  • The establishment of messaging networks to translate information about the pandemic,
  • Educating clients on the use of video platforms like Zoom,
  • Partnering with sponsors and community networks to offer laptop lending programs, and
  • Changing programs to an online format,
  • Preparing food boxes, or learning packages, and delivering them to families in need.

In many ways, the pandemic has service providers re-evaluating their priorities. The shift to an online service model provides more choice for those who require service. Newcomers can now choose services that best meets their needs rather being bound by geography. There’s a lot to be learned here and I’m excited to see how we grow into new ways of doing things through the combination of online and in-person delivery models.”

How Can I Help the Surrey Community and Libraries?

How Local Surrey Communities and Surrey Libraries Are Responding to Meet the Needs of Newcomers

If you’re reading this, and you have a laptop, or mobile device you’re no longer needing, please consider donating to an organization can divert it someone in need. These are a few organizations that can accept your used devices:

  • BC Tech is a registered charity that collects donated computers (and all types of other tech devices), trains and hires youth to refurbish the computers, and then distributes the computers to schools, non-profits, libraries, Indigenous groups, and students,
  • The Electronic Recycling Association collects used, old and unwanted electronic devices from individuals and businesses throughout Vancouver, and donates them to Canadian charities across the country, or,
  • List your equipment on the Surrey Reuses website or contact the RCBC Recycling Hotline for reuse options in your area.

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