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Welcoming newcomers – Immigrant Services Society helps to smooth the way for new arrivals to Canada

Welcoming newcomers – Immigrant Services Society helps to smooth the way for new arrivals to Canada

Look around the spacious offices of the Immigrant Services Society office at 200-620 Royal Ave., and you have the United Nations in front of you.

From Nepal is 23-year-old Ganga Ram Subedi, who’s taking part in the Youth Connexions program. Beside him are Kambiz and Vivian Forouzan, a couple from Dubai using the employment services programs. And completing the worldwide feel are Connie Tang from China and Zoya Trari-Marzuki from Russia, both in the English-as-a-second-language ELSA program.

“We have five different programs out of the New Westminster office,” said Khim Tran, who helps manage the ELSA – English Language Services for Adults – program. “We are funded by all three levels of government, and we are a non-profit group that offers free services to new immigrants as they try to make their way as new Canadians.”

Tran said that prior to the society opening its New Westminster office in 2009, new immigrants had to travel to Coquitlam or Richmond to access the society’s offerings. Now, with SkyTrain only steps away, the society is serving more than 100 people a week.

For Subedi, who was born in Bhutan but spent the past 18 years as a refugee in Nepal before coming to Canada in 2009, Youth Connexions allows him to work on his English as he tries to get into business management classes at Langara College.

“I’m very lucky to get into this program,” said Subedi. “I want to learn new things so that I can be a better Canadian.”

For Kambiz, the Skills Connect program will allow him to find a job similar to his previous job as an architect.

“There are some skills I need to upgrade,” said Kambiz. “I’m taking an auto-drafting course and some technology courses. … I’d like to be able to get back into my field as an architect.”

For Vivian, a former executive assistant, Skills Connect allows her to meet new people and get her name out to prospective employers.

“We are so happy we came to Canada,” she said. “Now we have to try and make it a better country.”

Tang is steadily improving her English in the Level 4 ELSA program. She hopes to get a job in the hospitality industry soon.

“I’ve had some interviews, and I know my English is getting better,” she said. “I know if I keep working at this, good things will happen.”

If Tran needs to find inspiration, she need look no further than husband Philip Lu, who came to Canada 10 years ago and worked his way through the system to become a hotel sales manager.

“I know that you can come to Canada and become successful because people will help you,” she said. “If you work hard, people will help you.”

Trari-Marzuki is also in the ELSA program, and she’s trying to get her English up to a level where she can resume her teaching career.

“I used to teach elementary school children,” she said. “I’d love to work with children again.”

Trari-Marzuki knows her English has to improve in order for her to get into the upgrade courses at Douglas College she needs to get a job in education.

“If all goes well, then I can start working in a daycare and then move up to a school,” she said.

Those stories of hope are not new to Tran, who herself was an immigrant 35 years ago.

“I came from Singapore to study at SFU,” she said.

Immigrant services weren’t prevalent at the time, but, in the four decades since, Tran has seen an unbelievable growth.

“I started as a volunteer with ISS, and I’ve also worked with SUCCESS and MOSAIC,” she said. “I know how much I was helped when I first came to Canada, and I want to try and give back.”

Some of the other services offered at the society’s New Westminster location include a host program for refugees, employment outreach services, multilingual case management, settlement services and career services.

“We are always looking at ways to offer more, to offer services that are current with what people need,” said Tran. “It is our belief that the faster new immigrants integrate into the community, the faster they contribute to the community.”

In mid-April, the society hosted an open house to show the community what it is doing at the Royal Avenue offices.

Perhaps the best part of people from so many different cultures working and learning together is the fact they’re learning about uniquely Canadian things.

Tang said she was lucky enough to go see a hockey game at GM Place and now, when the local hockey team is playing, she can yell “Go, Canucks, Go” and know exactly what it means.

For more information on the Immigrant Services Society, go to www.issbc.org

Alfie Lau, The Record, CA

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