“What do you think about volunteering with OCISO?”

“Wha? Wait…who?”

“Uuuhhhh Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. They’re matching Canadians with the refugee community to help them learn English, Canadian Culture, make connections, stuff like that.”

Immediately, images flash like gunfire…tears streaming down terrorized faces, hungry children, fleeing pregnant women, desperate fathers, an elderly man sitting on a chair in a door frame, behind him the smoking rubble of his home. I see media edited footage…explosions, bodies, burning burning burning. I imagine the noise…rat-a-tat-tat, hushed voices, a child’s voice “Mama”, murmured prayers, screams, planning planning planning, “get out” and maybe even worse, the silence of expectation. What comes next?

And so our story begins much later. We are in our kitchen with the noise of children fighting over a game of monopoly while scents of cumin and cinnamon dance above a simmering pot of stew. I glance at the scene before me and feel slightly ashamed and grateful all at once. The excuse of helplessness is replaced with action. I nod and my husband sits down to write an email to Volunteer Coordinator, Bonnie Thornington. The penny drops.

I agree to attend the volunteer orientation. “I’ll just check it out. We’re not committed to anything. Hey, it’s a Saturday morning away from the kids.” I quicken my pace, enter a room of strangers, acknowledge the anxiety bubbling from my guts and find the coffee. So thankful for coffee. Ooooh nice spread. Very thoughtful. Deep breaths. Sit. Eyes dart furtively. Everyone looks nice. Not so bad. Sip. We turn our attention to Bonnie and begin. Sip.

Throughout I feel exhilarated and inspired. We are a diverse group with a shared global consciousness. I like these people. Young, young-at-heart, with children, with grown kids, sans enfants, all together for the same purpose. Cool.

As I walk out of Hintonburg, the niggling doubts creep like weeds into my thoughts. What if the family doesn’t like us? What if we don’t like them? What if we can’t communicate? What if there is awkward silence?  What if we offend them because afterall, we’re from different cultures, countries, religious backgrounds? Deep breath. A car honks, jolting me out of circular reverie.

As an introvert, meeting new people is difficult and so, by joining this initiative I stretch my comfort zone beyond comprehension. I calm myself knowing that my extroverted husband and four tornado-esque children will take the pressure off, providing a welcome distraction. With each passing day, we draw nearer to “the first meeting”. To be completely honest, I feel like cake…a layer of excitement, a layer of fear, a layer of expectation with a smooth, sweet icing of good intention. Pretty soon, I’ll need to take a bite.

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Our Mission!

OCISO supports immigrants through the journey of making Canada their home by providing creative and responsive programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, by building community through mutual respect and partnerships, and by fostering healthy and inclusive spaces for open dialogue and healing.

What we do 🙂

We are community based non-profit organization that has been providing services in Ottawa since 1978. We are motivated by the stories of new immigrants, and we are there every stage of the journey. OCISO directly serves over 10,000 immigrants and refugees every year. Our work is augmented by the generous efforts of our enthusiastic, caring and talented staff, volunteers, both established and new Canadians.