New Canadian Media

by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto 

In July 2015, three sisters – Ilhan, Hodan and Ayan Ibrahim – launched Qurtuba Publishing House, an Islamic publishing company based out of Ottawa. 

The company is committed to reclaiming the stories and perspectives of Muslims and engaging in the sharing of knowledge for both Muslims and non-Muslims. 

“[We want to] help shift the narrative by producing relevant content on issues Muslims are facing today in the contemporary context and [provide] practical solutions on how to overcome these problems,” says Ilhan, the CEO of Qurtuba Publishing House. 

Health and wellness for Muslims 

One of the areas that Qurtuba is focusing on with its work is health and wellness in the Muslim community. 

Ayan, the managing editor and co-founder, is preparing to publish her book, The Health Conscious Muslim: One Muslim Woman’s Journey of Navigating the World of Health and Fitness, which draws on her experiences to become healthy and active. 

Especially for Muslim women ... we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.

“Coming from a Somali background, our cultural foods are very much based in high fats, high sodium, high sugar content fat,” says Ayan, who works as a nurse and draws on her medical experiences. “We have to eat it in moderation.” 

“Looking from a health standpoint, we are consuming a lot of unhealthy food in our cultural food,” she adds. “A lot of Somali people and Muslim people are feeling the consequences of that.”

“We have a high rate of diabetes, [the risk of having a] stroke is also prevalent in our community. And [there are many who] are overweight.” 

A major part of the problem with accessing such information is the lack of literature from minority voices. 

“Health isn’t at the forefront for Muslims,” Ayan explains. “I think, especially for Muslim women, we dream about it, we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.” 

Many echo similar thoughts.

“I want to lead a healthy lifestyle,” says Iman Togone, a student at the University of Toronto. “But I don’t know where to begin. It’s very difficult to find healthy and affordable alternatives to junk or fatty food.” 

Togone also express concern about finding a way to balance her love for traditional Somali food with a healthy lifestyle.

“Having a book written by someone like me would help me overcome other barriers as well, such as finding a women’s gym to exercise or one that has women’s hours that are convenient.” 

Reenas Mohammed, a second year student at the University of Toronto, says it’s difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle when your family does not. 

“Being healthy is critical especially as you get older,” Mohammed says. “Being able to look to someone like me who is able to break down the steps to being healthy is a significant inspiration.” 

Non-western perspectives 

For the founders of Qurtuba Publishing, the lack of educational material on non-western perspectives is another area of concern. 

“We love to learn, however, the information we wanted wasn’t available,” Hodan, the company’s marketing manager, says. 

“I studied political science and international relations and – as much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.” 

"[A]s much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.

“Why aren’t there more books catering to contemporary Muslim intellectual needs?” Hodan asks. “And why isn’t there a diversity of topics … that [address] the contemporary needs of Muslims?”  

These same questions and concerns may have spurred the establishment of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist, as well as other religious and Islamic, publishing companies. In this regard, Qurtuba Publishing House is not necessarily unique, but where the company aims to go further is its commitment to share knowledge. 

“What makes us different from other publishing houses is that we provide practicality of those books,” Ilhan explains. 

“We are hoping to take our books that we are producing and actually create workshops to help people develop those tools and those skills to overcome those problems they may be facing in their families, in their personal lives, in their spirituality, [and] in their communities.” 

Qurtuba's vision was what first caught Mohammed's attention when she found out about the publishing house. 

“I was impressed with their commitment to helping Muslims grapple with modern day problems like debt, conflicts with parents and self development,” she says. 

“We didn’t start [this] company to make money.”

Solving a social problem

Where many other publishing companies have been established solely for profit, Qurtuba was established out of a commitment to social justice.

“Being someone who comes from an immigrant community or marginalized or minority community, we just naturally have an affinity with that type of thinking,” Hodan explains.

“We didn’t start [this] company to make money,” she says. “We wanted to solve a social problem which was how do we help create more economic resilience in Muslim communities?”

“How do we start supporting a new narrative?” Hodan continues. “How do we contribute constructively to mainstream discussions [as well as] how Muslims think about themselves [and] how other people who are non-Muslims think about us?”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould issued a statement today announcing that the Canadian government will not be pursuing its appeal in the court case about the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), and changes made to it in 2012 for refugees, refugee claimants and claimants who […]

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Thursday, 03 December 2015 14:05

Hepatitis B Education Crucial for Newcomers

by Belén Febres-Cordero in Vancouver

Immigrants from Asia are three to 12 times more likely to get hepatitis B than their Canadian-born counterparts, says a new public education campaign launched by S.U.C.C.E.S.S., an immigrant-serving organization in British Columbia.

Dr. Eric Yoshida, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and head of the division of gastroenterology at the Vancouver General Hospital, explains that the high prevalence of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) among newcomers can be attributed to mother-to-child transmissions at birth or early childhood in countries where infection rates are high, and where vaccination is uncommon. 

Infection rates are also impacted by the lack of systematic testing and treatment for new immigrants arriving to the country, as well as high costs of medications, lack of awareness, and difficulty accessing medical care.

“I know many HBV carriers who ignore the infection because they can’t find a stable doctor or a doctor who speaks their language,” says T.H., who migrated to Canada from Taiwan when he was 12 years old and is an HBV carrier.

Another difficulty he recognizes is that the resources available are mostly provided in English, or are too technical.

Urgent need for education

Aiming to reduce the barriers that newcomers may face when accessing these resources, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. carried out the Let’s Talk About B: Hepatitis B (HBV) Public Education Program.

“We recognized the urgent need for the program after conducting 1,000 surveys among different groups, through which we discovered that most people don’t know much about hepatitis B,” explains Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Financed by a grant of the provincial government, S.U.C.C.E.S.S conducted 68 educational workshops and participated in 105 community and outreach events to raise awareness about the risks, prevention, diagnosis, treatment options, and self-management tools of hepatitis B among the general public and Asian immigrants in particular.

It reached almost 30,000 individuals of all ages among Chinese, Korean, Filipino and South Asian communities in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

“Every community is unique and each one requires different information. The resources available need to adapt to each population so that people are more likely to engage with them,” says Alan Huang, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. HBV program manager.

“For this reason, the materials we created were culturally appropriate,” he adds. The workshops were given by facilitators who spoke the language of the communities they focused on, were provided in places where these populations usually congregate, and addressed cultural beliefs that could prevent people from getting involved.

HBV is diagnosed through a simple blood test that can be performed for free at family doctors’ offices and walk-in clinics.

Huang also says that they focused on Asian populations because they tend to have a higher risk of getting hepatitis B. There are approximately 60,000 to 100,000 chronic carriers in B.C. Near 70 per cent of them are immigrants, and among those, over 85 per cent are of Asian descent.

Dr. Yoshida explains that while several factors increase immigrants’ risks of getting infected, HBV is also prevalent in other regions of the world. T. H. considers that educational programs such as Let’s Talk About B “can raise awareness and help people understand that HBV is not just an immigrant disease, but something we should all be aware of and encourage people around us to get tested.”

According to a S.U.C.C.E.S.S. press release, around 75 per cent of the participants discussed HBV with their primary care providers and/or got screened. The organization continues engaging community-based organizations and public health officials to promote and deliver health campaigns among other populations across Canada in the future.

Getting screened

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a type of liver disease caused by a virus. Billie Potkonjak, director of health promotion and patient services of the Canadian Liver Foundation, explains that one of the main risks of HBV is that if it is not diagnosed and treated on time, it can increase patients’ chances of developing liver cancer and other chronic conditions, such as cirrhosis.

However, HBV is a “silent killer,” according to Choo. Dr. Jessica Chan, family physician and chair of the Hepatitis Medical Advisory Committee for S.U.C.C.E.S.S., says that the condition is likely to go undiagnosed because symptoms do not appear immediately

HBV is diagnosed through a simple blood test that can be performed for free at family doctors’ offices and walk-in clinics. Nevertheless, as Dr. Chan points out, unless people specifically tell their doctor that they want to be tested, physicians will assume that somebody else has already performed the screening.

Fear of deportation is present among immigrants, but Canada does not deport people because of the disease.

Hence, Potkonjak highlights that “it is extremely important to talk to your doctor, so that they can diagnose the disease if you have it, and prescribe appropriate medication to stop the virus from destroying your liver.”

Debunking myths

Stigma can prevent people from seeking appropriate care. “HBV is somewhat of an unknown disease in Canada. It is not a topic I like to discuss openly, in fear of being rejected,” says T.H.

One of the myths around HBV is related to its transmission. Dr. Chan explains that although hepatitis B can also be transmitted by blood or body fluids, the majority of people worldwide get infected during childhood or infancy.

Dr. Yoshida adds that it cannot be transmitted through food, coughing, or casual contact. “It is not contracted because you had lunch with somebody or sat on a crowded bus.”

The difference between hepatitis A, B, and C may also be unknown to the general public. 

Fear of deportation is present among immigrants, but Canada does not deport people because of the disease, and individuals should not be discriminated based on health status in the country, explains Dr. Yoshida.

A person who migrated from Hong Kong and has lived with HBV for 35 years recommends people to engage with projects such as the Let’s Talk About B Program and the Living with Liver Disease Program offered in different provinces by the Canadian Liver Foundation. 

“It is important to stay positive and get in charge of your own health,” he says. “Don’t be afraid of talking to your doctor, getting tested, and receiving treatment if you need it. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and this can save your life.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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SOUTH Asian community members now have better access to health information through a new program delivered at local temples to raise awareness about common health concerns and actions people can take to stay healthy. The Sehat Wellness Ambassador program, under the banner of Fraser Health’s South Asian Health Institute, will begin at Guru Nanak Sikh […]

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by Kyle Duggan in Ottawa

The new minister of health can expect a flood of petitions on her desk on the topic of implementing a rare disease strategy for Canada.

Durhane Wong-Rieger, president of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, told a crowd of health experts and industry stakeholders at an event put on by the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa Monday that if they’re not writing letters to the new health minister and prime minister, they’re not doing their jobs.

“This strategy is long overdue,” she said. “We are way behind other countries.”

Her organization has been championing its plan for a national strategy since May, but sees an opportunity in the new federal government.

“I see it as low hanging fruit … a quick win for the party and the government if they were to bring this forward and implement it.”

Tougher for people with rare diseases

The strategy calls for improving early detection of rare diseases, improving quality of care for patients and introducing a policy framework for “orphan” drugs — those developed specifically for rare diseases. It also suggests measures aimed at creating a better information network for rare diseases, including a possible registry.

Monday’s event heard from Jonathan Pitre of Russell, Ontario, often called the “butterfly boy.” Pitre has an incurable skin condition called Epidermolysis bullosa (EB). He’s one of about 5,000 people with some form of EB in Canada, which causes his skin to blister and burn.

“For most common conditions or diseases it’s a little bit easier, there’s more knowing about them … resources dedicated to them.”

He told the crowd about the prolonged frustration of waiting for doctors to properly diagnose his condition, about the lack of appropriate adult care centres for those with rare diseases and the prohibitive cost of his medication.

“For most common conditions or diseases it’s a little bit easier, there’s more knowing about them … resources dedicated to them,” he said. “For rare diseases … it’s a bit tougher for us.”

There’s no treatment for EB in Canada – a bone-marrow transplant would cost $2.5 million, on top of the cost of travelling to and staying in the U.S. for an extended period of time.

“I think you guys noticed that’s not pocket change,” he said. “That’s unreal.”

“That’s the truth of it. Just to get that treatment that may help us … I may not live to 20. Just to be able to keep fighting we need that much money and that much resources … We can do definitely better.”

Lack of coherent, rational approach

Former Alberta health minister Fred Horne said a Canadian rare disease strategy could help deal with cases like Pitre’s in the future, and pointed to a rare drug framework as something the new government could move on quickly.

“Instead of worrying about whose jurisdiction it is, let’s look at what are the opportunities to really work together and make something happen.”

“Rare disease coverage for patients, where it exists, it’s very sporadic across the country. Some provinces have a specialized program off to the side where they can provide some assistance, but there’s no really coherent, rational approach to this. It’s a public health issue, it affects three million Canadians – that’s the call to action.”

He said a catastrophic drug coverage plan for rare diseases is critical, adding that from his experience it’s “pretty hard in a smaller budget to provide reimbursement for these drugs” because some cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Setting national standards and pooling financial resources, he said, “could do better for Canadians than we’re currently doing.

“Instead of worrying about whose jurisdiction it is, let’s look at what are the opportunities to really work together and make something happen.”

Wong-Rieger also spoke about the need to get more Canadians with rare diseases into clinical trials.

“That’s your lifeline, that’s your hope,” she said. Missing out on clinical trials can be a “major, major tragedy,” she said.

Her organization estimates that about three million Canadians – about eight per cent of the population – has a rare disease.


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

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Some ethnic groups, such as people of South Asian descent, are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes because of a genetic predisposition. In recognition of Diabetes Awareness Month, the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) and its South Asian Diabetes Chapter are hosting the eighth annual South Asian Diabetes Expo on Saturday, Nov. 28, in […]

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Sunday, 01 November 2015 20:58

Family Not the Best Interpreter of Maladies

by Lucy Slavianska in Toronto

Language barriers can have a negative impact not only on initial access to health services, but also on the quality of health care and treatment outcomes.

In Canada, three main groups of patients can face language barriers: newcomers who still haven’t gained enough fluency in one of the official languages; French speakers with limited English living outside Quebec or English speakers in Quebec with limited French; and some members of First Nations and Inuit communities.

For immigrants and refugees, language barriers are generally considered a "newcomer" issue, which is overcome once the immigrant learns enough English or French to become independent of interpreters.

However, even after several years in Canada, some immigrants are still not sufficiently able to understand the official language of the province they reside in. According to a Health Canada report, “Language Barriers in Access to Health Care,” such immigrants are “more likely to be women with young children, the elderly, poorly educated or those suffering traumatic events or psychological disorders.”

The report also says that some immigrants are able to communicate adequately in everyday situations, but face difficulties in coping with “highly stressful health-related events in a second language.”

Lack of privacy and confidentiality, embarrassment, and other kinds of psychological discomfort are some of the disadvantages of using family members and friends to translate.

Pitfalls of using non-professional interpreters

For patients who face language barriers, it is a common practice to visit hospitals and physicians’ offices accompanied by family members or friends acting as interpreters.

This practice has its advantages – these non-professional interpreters are easy to find, often compassionate, and in most cases accompany the patient at no cost. The stress of falling sick and visiting a hospital in a new country can be reduced if the patient feels supported, physically and psychologically, by loved ones.

But this experience is not always the case.

Soon after Aiko (not her real name), a 15-year-old girl from Japan, came to Canada to join her father, she started to experience menorrhagia – excessive bleeding that lasted more than seven days each month.

However, with no knowledge of English, she was reluctant to see a doctor. She felt uncomfortable talking to her father or her stepmother (with whom she had a conflict) about her problem, and couldn’t imagine going to a physician’s office with one of them as the interpreter and talking about her period in their presence.

A few months later, she started feeling weak and tired, and she fainted one morning in the kitchen. At the hospital, a blood check showed that Aiko had developed iron-deficiency anemia as a result of the untreated heavy bleeding.

Her father translated during the examination. She was embarrassed when the physician asked her about her menstrual cycle.

“The doctor was a woman and I might feel okay talking only with her in the room,” Aiko remembers, “but because my father was there, I didn’t want to answer. It was terrible.”

Even if good intentions are present, the use of untrained interpreters still carries serious risks of errors in translation that can lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

Aiko had to answer all the questions and eventually made a full recovery, but until her English improved, she dreaded seeing a physician again.

Lack of privacy and confidentiality, embarrassment, and other kinds of psychological discomfort like those Aiko experienced are some of the disadvantages of using family members and friends to translate.

But there are other, even more serious disadvantages: sometimes the interpreter may not act in good faith and can twist the information in a way that can harm the patient. Also, important sensitive information – about domestic violence, psychiatric illness, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and so on – may be hidden from the physician or distorted. 

But even if good intentions are present, the use of untrained interpreters still carries serious risks of errors in translation that can lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.

A 2003 research paper, “Errors in Medical Interpretation and Their Potential Clinical Consequences in Pediatric Encounters,” concluded that mistakes in medical interpretation are common, and errors made by untrained interpreters are significantly more likely to have potential clinical consequences than those made by professional interpreters.

Professional interpreters: specially trained

For all these reasons, hospitals in Canada often use independent and specially trained interpreters.

In Toronto, for example, many hospitals find professionals though RivInt Interpretation and Translation Services, managed by the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women (EHCW). The centre has a roster of about 600 professionally trained people who cover more than 80 languages. 

The good news for the patients is that they don’t pay for interpreters – the expenses are covered by the hospitals.

“Since our clients are most often hospitals, our interpreters are mainly specialized in health care,” says Sunder Singh, executive director of EHCW.

“We don’t take anyone who is not language tested and trained. One of the main elements of the training is mastering the medical terminology. The participants have to become familiar with all kinds of medical words and learn their equivalents in their own languages.”

Singh adds, “Another important element is the understanding of the responsibilities of the job. For example, interpreters have to be aware that the information communicated between the patient and the medical staff is strictly confidential. Interpreters who don’t obey that rule would not be called to work again and will lose their income."

Training is provided by different colleges and organizations like Seneca College, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative, Multilingual Community Interpreter Services and others.

“Training is expensive,” Singh says, “usually between $800 and $2000, but if the participants become good interpreters and the hospitals are satisfied by them, they are called again and again. And if the language is on demand, then there is a quick return on the investment.”

The good news for the patients is that they don’t pay for interpreters – the expenses are covered by the hospitals.

“The hospitals pay [the fees for] the language services to us,” Singh explains, “and we pay the interpreters at market rate. The federal budget, unfortunately, doesn’t pay a lot for interpreters’ services, so the hospitals keep aside some budget for that – because they understand how important professional translation is.”


While across Canada there are organizations that provide new immigrants with information about the Canadian health-care system, there is a growing number of newcomers who still don’t know about these resources. As such, this is part of an occasional series by NewCanadianMedia.ca that will look into access to health care for immigrants.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Health
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 15:06

Reframing Racism as a Public Health Issue

by Shan Qiao in Toronto
 
Scholars and students recently gathered at Canada’s top health education institute to discuss racial health inequities experienced by immigrants, refugees and racialized groups.
 
The eighth annual Dalla Lana student-led conference titled Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity took place at University of Toronto’s (U of T) Dalla Lana School of Public Health this past weekend. 

Approximately 200 undergraduate and graduate students from U of T, along with academics and researchers, health policymakers and members of immigrant community agencies were in attendance. 

The goal was to share trans-disciplinary thoughts and solutions to achieving racial health equity in the Greater Toronto Area. The organizers hoped the conference could shift the conversation in public health by reframing racism as a public health issue.

“We chose this theme for our conference because of the staggering inequities faced by racialized individuals in Canada that not only affect their social outcomes, but health outcomes as well.”

“We chose this theme for our conference because of the staggering inequities faced by racialized individuals in Canada that not only affect their social outcomes, but health outcomes as well,” says Anjum Sultana, one of the co-chairs of the conference and a student in the masters of public health program at the Dalla Lana School. 
 
The two-day event examined topics ranging from racism and health inequities to immigrant mental health services, refugee health insurance, culturally safe patient care and indigenous study. Specific subjects such as sexual health promotion for racialized communities were also addressed. 

Culturally competent services
 
Dr. Lin Fang, one of the conference’s speakers held a session titled “Culturally Responsive Mental Health Services for Racialized Groups”. 

She shared that despite how important “culturally competent” services are to immigrant communities the government still worries that branding services as such will discourage social service inclusiveness. 

“It’s scary (to them),” she admits.
 
Fang, an associate professor at University of Toronto, specializes in mental health services for immigrants, refugees and racialized groups and is also the board chair for Hong Fook Mental Health Association, a community agency that has served East and Southeast Asian communities for three decades. 

Immigrants are not immune to suffering from mental health issues, explains Fang. 

“[Just over six per cent] of immigrants [have] had at least one major depressive episode,” says Fang, “[and] 0.5 per cent of immigrants reported experiencing problems related to alcohol dependence. First- and second-generation immigrants were at elevated risk for psychosis.”

[D]espite how important “culturally competent” services are to immigrant communities the government still worries that branding services as such will discourage social service inclusiveness.

 
And while suicide rates for the immigrant population were about half of those of the Canadian-born, psychological distress, post traumatic stress disorder and depression are high in refugee groups, Fang continues. 
 
“New immigrants and refugees are also less likely to seek out and be referred to mental health services, or use less services,” Fang indicates, explaining that language barriers, inadequate time and fractured support networks all contribute to such a reality.
 
Culturally responsive services can play an important role in bridging this gap. 

In Hong Fook’s annual report one of its clients describes how such services helped: 

“During the Lunar New Year, I was back to square one with my depression. I did not pick up the phone at all, and my mental health worker ended up paying me an unscheduled visit, and helped me to connect with my family. She knows my culture and the meaning of the Lunar New Year for me, and I value her support a lot,” the client said. 

Factoring in poverty 

Factors contributing to immigrant mental health issues include pre-migration events and post-migration stress. 

A large part of post-migration stress can be tied to income. For example, in Toronto, the poverty rate of some immigrant groups – 69.5 per cent for the Somali community, 27 per cent for the Tamil community and 56 per cent for the Afghan community – is much higher than the city’s 17 per cent average.

"[W]hat we really want to do is find an institutional solution to improve our responses to aboriginal and indigenous people, immigrants and refugees.”

 
Poverty is often linked to unemployment and underemployment. Unemployment is 30 per cent higher for immigrants than for those who are Canadian-born. 

Not to mention, many immigrants arrive highly educated, but are forced to work in unrelated ‘survival’ jobs just to make ends meet due to a lack of Canadian experience or their foreign credentials not being recognized.
 
Next steps
 
“[The results of this conference] will definitely not disappear,” promises Meena Bhardwaj, co-chair of the conference and also in her second year of the masters of public health program at Dalla Lana. 

“We have a website. Every single talk will have notes that will be available online. We also have some forward direction that we will take after the conference.”

Sultana adds that Toronto is well positioned as a city in which real change can happen. 

“After the conference, what we really want to do is find an institutional solution to improve our responses to aboriginal and indigenous people, immigrants and refugees,” she says. “We are going to ask our faculty here to start pushing forward.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Health
Wednesday, 21 October 2015 22:16

Volunteering Benefits Newcomers' Well-Being

by Maria Ikonen in Ottawa

Moving to a new country can be stressful. It means leaving familiar places, people and aspects of everyday life behind. Whether arriving in Canada with their family or alone, adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment for many newcomers is difficult.

Volunteering and getting involved in social activities has helped many adapt, and had positive effects on their overall well-being.

Originally from Pakistan, Shahnaz Ali, 44, lived in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. before coming to Canada in 2002. Encouraged by the principal, Ali began volunteering at her daughter’s school, and then later with the YMCA and a Sunday school.

She remembers the value of volunteering during those early days in Canada.

“Newcomers can get the opportunity to socialize and meet new people and get a better understanding of Canadian culture,” says Ali, who now volunteers with The Ottawa Hospital.  

“Simply put, it feels great to give back to others through volunteerism, plus there are opportunities to develop new skills.”

Sherri Daly, manager of volunteer resources at The Ottawa Hospital, describes volunteering as an effective way to learn about social norms in Canada.

“It is vital to get out of your house when you are new to a community or job hunting. Having meaningful things to do can be a way to build self-esteem and connections,” says Daly.

Gaining valuable work experience

Having local work experience may be vital when looking for new employment. In such a situation volunteering can be beneficial, explains Annmarie Nicholson, director of volunteer services at The Royal, a mental-health research and care facility in Ottawa.

“Simply put, it feels great to give back to others through volunteerism, plus there are opportunities to develop new skills,” says Nicholson. “Work experience as well is a very practical benefit to volunteering, and having a local reference person when applying for jobs is a big benefit as well.”

Besides learning about Canadian culture and creating new resume material, being active is a chance to help others, adds Andrea Tatarski, coordinator in humane education at the Ottawa Humane Society.

“Volunteers have the opportunity to give back to the community by making positive differences for the animals in our care, as well as the people we serve through our various programs and services.”

Improving mental health

Sinthuja Krishnamoorthy works in the Newcomer Youth Program at East Metro Youth Services, an adolescent mental-health and addictions centre in Scarborough, Ontario.

Some newcomers may be interested in volunteering, but are unsure of where to start or are hesitant to get involved.

The program is geared toward engaging young refugees and those who have permanent residency in Canada in social and volunteering activities.

“Becoming lonely in a new country and being away from family can cause anxiety,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We help these newcomers discuss their issues in a safe environment.”

The biggest challenge for youth is often feeling confident in their language skills, Krishnamoorthy explains.

“They might not learn English as a second language in their home countries, or aren’t comfortable using it. This is where our daily conversations and interactive activity component comes in handy.”

Once program participants feel more comfortable, Krishnamoorthy says they have an opportunity to volunteer.

Participants have made mattresses from used milk bags to send to developing countries, for example.

“We want to keep youth active and interested,” says Krishnamoorthy. “We ask the youth what they would like to achieve by being in the program.”

Krishnamoorthy also has success stories to share. “One youth was shy at the beginning, but now he is going into his second year of medical school. Another young man [shared] in a television interview his understanding of what mental health is. [He said] speaking of it and seeking help has greatly improved his relations with his family and helped to improve his own mental health.”

Taking the first step

Many things may prompt a person to decide to volunteer.

I believe volunteering my time is the best way [to] appreciate all blessings in my life.”

One reason might be positive encounters with a particular organization.

“I had a friend who had a very good experience with the nursing staff when her father stayed at [The Ottawa Hospital], and she committed to volunteer to give something back to the cause,” shares Ali.

For others, the decision to start volunteering may arise from a personal situation.

“I lost my hearing about six years ago, and as that happened, my employer refused to accommodate my disability,” says one volunteer from The Ottawa Hospital who wishes to remain anonymous. “Volunteering at the hospital allows me to gain experience so that in the future I can find an employer who will accommodate [me].” 

Some newcomers may be interested in volunteering, but are unsure of where to start or are hesitant to get involved.

Nicholson says that the best time to start is now.

“Facing all of the massive changes you have already faced through immigrating to our country has allowed you to build resiliency you may not recognize,” she says. “Share your concerns honestly with the agency you are considering volunteering with, and that agency will find ways to overcome the barriers that are contributing to your hesitancy.”

Says Ali: “I believe volunteering my time is the best way [to] appreciate all blessings in my life.”


Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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The World Health Organization estimates that more than 47 million people are living with dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to reach 75...

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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