English café opens doors for newcomers

English Cafe
by Maritime

The atmosphere at the English café is a happy one, as women and their young children hustle in from the cold, grabbing a coffee as they get settled. Talking and laughter are so commonplace around the table, that you would assume it’s always been like this for these women.  This, however, is not the case, as only three years ago they were all refugees coming to Canada from Syria, to start a new life, in a strange land.

“When my husband first told me that we would be coming to Canada, I told him that I didn’t want to go, because it was too far away and I was so scared,” says one participant.

Despite deplorable conditions while living in refugee camps, the thought of leaving everything they knew behind, was a terrifying one.

“That’s why these English programs are so important”, says Jennifer Lohnes, Program Coordinator at the Open Arms Centre.  “Not only do they have the opportunity to improve their English skills, they have the chance to find community and build relationships here.  It’s vital to have that support, especially when your trying to navigate another culture and new opportunities.”

These language support programs are essential to help people thrive as they become accustomed to life here.

“Last week we had some participants bring in letters they received in the mail, about upcoming appointments at the hospital.  Without these classes, they may have missed appointments that could have affected the health of themselves, or their children.

Because of the support of donors, these women have a place to learn about topics such as Canadian currency and common Canadian sayings.  While most of us learn these things as children, they can cause real stumbling blocks for newcomers.

“I want to learn English very well,” says Fatima, one of the participants. “I want to become a Canadian citizen and I am happy that my children can be safe here.”

One of the first babies born when these women arrived in Canada is a little girl they call, “Canadian baby Jenna.”  This little girl, with her common English name, represents the future for these women.  It’s a future full of shared culture, possibilities and hope.