Newcomers Learn English and Build Friendships

Julia, left and Evie, right, at Calgary's Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre
Categories: Hope Stories

Lonely. It’s a word Evie and Julia use over and over again to describe their experience as new Canadians. The two women travelled a long road before arriving at their new homes in Calgary ―Evie from Albania and Julia from Ukraine.

In Calgary, both mothers were at home with young children and found their lack of English skills isolating. “When you stay at home, you have no friends,” says Evie. Both women were in a routine of housework and childcare. They did their best to pick up language skills from the television, which helped with understanding, but not with speaking. Julia notes how difficult and frustrating it was to deal with everything from the doctor to the drug mart to the grocery store.

Evie was worried about the impact on her three-year-old daughter. “She was so frustrated with English, she had this whole delay in speech.” The frustration came out in sleeplessness and acting out.

Evie and Julia found their lives changed when they connected with The Salvation Army’s Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre in Calgary. Both women enrolled in language classes, and their children began taking programs.

Evie noticed the change in her daughter almost immediately. “Since she is coming here she is more quiet and sleeps very well.” Evie says the staff gave her daughter extra help during story time and crafts. “She is excited to come and she cries when it’s time to go home because she wants to stay.”

Evie’s found her programs equally helpful. On Mondays, she studies grammar and conversation, but  prefers the Tuesday session that focuses entirely on conversation. “You have to speak, you have to express yourself and that is so helpful. I speak English more fluently, and more easy. I fit in better in community, at the grocery store, with my friends.”

Julia calls it her English “block”. She couldn’t speak because she was so shy. “I know a lot of words because I watch TV but I couldn’t be active with doctor or drug mart. Now if I don’t a know word or name, I don’t worry. Because I will try again.”

Julia credits the staff at the Centre for helping her through the citizenship process. “Sometimes teachers asked me about history and about Canada. It was really interesting. I did it! My test was done and I went and said thank you, Barbara Mitchell Centre!”

Julia doesn’t know what she would have done without The Salvation Army. She says there are other programs, but most are short; and now that she is a Canadian citizen, she is not eligible for many.

The centre brought the two women together and expanded their social network. Julia explains, “I have friends. We go to the playground together. I have maybe 40 or 50 friends from the Barbara Mitchell Centre. All the teachers are my friends. Every teacher can talk with me and help me.”

“Thank you, Salvation Army,” says Julia. “For my classes, for my English. For my life.”

Evie echoes the sentiment. “Thanks for helping my kids―they are growing inside and outside. They are doing so well and they are so happy.”

By Nancy Rose