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Meet the man who helps Francophone immigrant families navigate life in Sudbury

‘Everything is new,’ to newcomers, Tibila Sandiwidi says, but he can help students and parents adjust to life in Canada as well as unravel the oddness of North American practices like Halloween
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Tibila Sandiwidi is a “Travailleur d’établissement dans les écoles” (school settlement worker) for the two Francophone school boards (Conseil scolaire catholique Nouvelon and Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario ) in Sudbury through his position with Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury.

Though the position of school settlement worker — someone who guides and supports students and their families who are new to Canada as they familiarize themselves with their new home — is not a new one in Southern Ontario, it is new to the North. 

In July, 2020, Tibila Sandiwidi took on the role of “Travailleur d’établissement dans les écoles” (school settlement worker) for the two Francophone school boards (Conseil scolaire catholique Nouvelon and Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario ) in Sudbury through his position with Centre de santé communautaire du Grand Sudbury.

In addition to degrees in early childhood education, political science, applied research and social work, Sandiwidi is a newcomer to Sudbury himself, arriving in Sudbury in 2003 from Burkina Faso, West Africa. In his role as settlement worker, Sandiwidi aids parents and children new to Sudbury from beyond Canada’s borders, as well as the educators that have called Sudbury home for years – perhaps their whole lives.

The role itself is financed through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IIRC) and co-ordinated through the Centre de santé, where Francophone newcomers to Sudbury can find most of the guidance and resources they need to succeed in their new home.

It is about ensuring that parents and students can become a part of their school community by helping them understand how the education system works, the curriculum they will be learning, the interactions between parent and educator, and how to make the most of them, as well as helping with the cultural aspects of Canada that those who have lived here their whole lives may take for granted. 

“Everything is new,” said Sandiwidi. “To the parents, to the children, everything is new. So, you have parents who are learning new things, but they are supposed to teach their children, who are also learning new things.” It is a challenge, to say the least.

For as much as it is of the utmost importance to make sure a child is succeeding in school in their new home country, it is also important they understand cultural traditions here – for instance, Halloween. 

The event features the simple and oft-repeated question: ‘What are you going out as?’ 

If you have not heard that line all your life, that’s a pretty vague question. 

“When you celebrate Halloween, if you ask them about Halloween activities when they have never been in them, have never done them before, it’s hard for them. Even for a newcomer parent to understand how to dress the kids with a Halloween costume or do activities like trick-or-treating, or even activities at the school.” 

Sandiwidi not only ensures that educators understand the need to offer more information or background on these events for any students in their class, but he also ensures that parents can understand the requirements as well, so that students can enjoy the fun and never have to feel as though they are on the outside. They can participate as if they had been ‘trick-or-treating’ all their lives.

It also helps with cultural differences in behaviour; for example, looking someone in the eyes. 

There are many cultures that consider looking anyone older than you in the eyes while they are speaking, rather than casting them down at the ground, is considered a sign of disrespect – challenging your elders in a way that is disrespectful and rude. 

Eurocentric traditions would have you meet an elder’s gaze. The phrase ‘look me in the eyes when I am speaking to you,’ may be a familiar one here among parents and teachers, but not so in other countries. 

This results in a child that doesn’t know whether to choose up or down. And it’s something that Sandiwidi can help with as well. 

He also works to offer intercultural training workshops, supports schools with their registration efforts and acts as an ambassador for Francophone schools in Greater Sudbury.

Of course, like everything in the world, the pandemic has changed how Sandiwidi is working. It is much more virtual and Sandiwidi says that though “it is hard to build trust when someone has never met you in person,” he continues to work within the limitations to assist parents, students and educators in their learning and development. 

He says that while online learning has presented even more challenges, not to mention a focus on achieving what’s possible under the circumstances rather than moving ahead with goals, the program is going strong and his interactions with newcomers are proving everyday that he can make a difference in their lives. 

If you would like more information on the program, visit SanteSudbury.ca.

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Reporter at Sudbury.com, covering issues in the Black, immigrant and Francophone communities. She is also a freelance writer and voice actor.


Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com.
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