If you grew up in Canada, chances are most aspects of life in this country are known to you. You may not understand them, but basic concepts and terms are familiar. And then, even with your lifetime’s worth of understanding, you would be hard pressed to find a person who will truly understand every aspect — from banking and financial literacy to education and healthcare — of life in Canada.
If everyone understood it, then ‘adulting’ would not be a verb (actually, maybe a gerund?). It would not be considered a skill you must learn and master before becoming a success, before even attempting to adequately negotiate even the socialised aspects of the Canadian system.
And now, picture yourself as a newcomer to Canada. Regardless of the language you speak, a simple act like grocery shopping changes if you have never bought your food anywhere but markets, or small retailers.
If a visit to Costco can overwhelm those who have grown up shopping in 20-aisle grocery stores, imagine what it feels like to someone who did not grow up here.
Now feel that moment in your life when you didn’t know something everyone else did. Picture that time, and it’s a familiar one surely, as the memories usually float around your head in the wee hours of the morning. Feel that embarrassment, the anxiety, the wish to crawl into a hole. Then picture that as a person with potentially no support system, feeling this day after day, hour after hour, in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home.
Fortunately, for Francophone new Canadians there are resources to help them feel a part of this community. One such resources is the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury.
It’s a community health centre with a mandate to provide primary health care, health promotion and community development services to Francophones in the Greater Sudbury area in the language of their choice, in order to ensure their optimal health and well-being.
But eight years ago, Monique Beaudoin, co-ordinator of health promotion, said something changed.
“We have been noticing a steady increase in the Francophone newcomer population since 2012,” she says. “They come with their own experiences, needs and issues, and as a result, our center has had to adapt our services to fit their needs.”
Because of this, they received recent funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to increase direct services to this population. Today, there are two staff — both of whom are immigrants to Canada — are providing services they themselves say would have been most helpful when they came to this country.
Houda Zrelli is a community liaison worker, while Tibila Sandiwidi is a settlement worker in local schools.
Among the results of this co-ordination are the three webinars that the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury is hosting Sept. 28 and 30, and Oct. 5. They will be hosted via Zoom, and cover the school system, the health system and financial services system.
Zrelli, a mother of two, moved to Sudbury 10 years ago from Tunisia when her husband was recruited for work as a machinist. Tunisia is a multi-lingual country where French is the primary language of business and education.
In Canada, she said she struggled to find work.
In Tunisia, she was a well-trained nurse, and prepared to be one here in Sudbury as well. But her educational credits were not honoured here, and with her son on one of the almost consistent waitlists for a daycare spot, she could not upgrade her education to meet the requirements.
She was able to get a job as a medical secretary at the Centre Santé, but it was her volunteering spirit that moved her further.
“What has helped me to move forward in my career is volunteering my time with new Francophone immigrants to help them get adjusted to life in Sudbury,” Zrelli said.
She also sits on the board of directors for the Sudbury Counselling Centre, and in her new role as community social liaison officer, she works with newcomers to help navigate the health care system.
“I help to guide them towards community partners that assist with social services such as housing, education, finances, and employment. We collaborate very closely with our community partners.”
During this week’s webinars, Zrelli will share information on publicly funded health services, OHIP, the different health services available in Ontario, and the roles and responsibilities of health professionals.
Meanwhile, Sandiwidi will be presenting on navigating the school system. He is more than qualified not just because he navigated the system for his own family when he arrived in Canada, but because that is what he came here to do.
Sandiwidi has a master’s degree from his home of Burkina Faso, West Africa. He said he came here in 2003 to take the child and youth worker program at Collège Boréal.
He finished in 2006, and though he admits he had to pick blueberries for a few months to survive, he was able to get a job working in his field — and that has lead him to his current position as a settlement worker for the two Francophone school boards. It is the first position of its kind in Northern Ontario.
In the webinars, Sandiwidi will be presenting on his work in the school system, helping others to negotiate the complexities on behalf of their children. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll talk about his two toques. You see, while he smiles at the thought of the very warm welcome he received from this community, the weather, not so much; he used to wear two toques outside, and removed only one when he came indoors. Back outside, two toques again. Sudbury cold isn’t for the faint of heart.
The financial aspects of negotiating life in Sudbury and Canada will be presented by development officers at the Conseil de la coopération de l'Ontario/Cooperation Council of Ontario (CCO), with Sierra Howald, a child of Swiss immigrants who arrived in Sudbury 40 years ago, and West Nipissing born-and-raised Jérôme Courchesne.
With opportunities available to make for the much smoother settlement of newcomers to Sudbury, the process is easier, and results in people who feel at home in their new community. And in the case of the Zrelli and Sandiwidi, as well as the many other volunteers at the Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury, they begin to give back to the Sudbury community.
You can find more information about the three webinars by visiting the Centre.
Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com.