• Language Instruction | LINC | OCISO


“Who is these people?” asks my 6 year old.

“A family – remember the family we talked about?”

“From Serious?”

“Syria, honey. They escaped their country because of war. Lots of people were scared and they left – their home, their friends…”

“Their toys?”

“Yes. Everything. They moved to Canada to feel safe and find a new home and new friends.”

“Are we the friends?”

“I hope so. We’ll meet them and see if we’re a good match.”

I am grateful to her because she distracted me from the nervousness creeping into my tightening shoulders and back. Stress nestles itself, a jagged stone dropping into a pond, sending throbbing ripples in its journey east and west.

The girls fight to get out of the van first. The boys are at Scout camp and so are unable to experience our first meeting. My youngest brings her tap shoes, so she can show her new friends. My husband, Lon laughs with them as they skip across the parking lot. My legs feel slightly gelatinous and I struggle to catch up. The girls burst through the library doors as I lock eyes with Marina. My husband met her at an OCISO orientation and they connected instantly. He is a gregarious, open man who looks for opportunity in all things. Marina was raised in Egypt and speaks Arabic, French, English, some Spanish and some Greek. She was interested in joining a group and immediately, my husband saw potential. I am flooded with relief knowing that we will be able to communicate with our family.

I scan the room and notice a couple with two small children. We are introduced and begin to get acquainted. She speaks a few words of English while he has an astonishing grasp of the language considering they’ve only been here for a year. Their wee girl watches us with wide, curious eyes from the safety of her mother’s lap while her brother sits quietly in a chair, occasionally poking her, waiting for a response. My attention turns to the conversation, the expected pleasantries and curiosities, the weather and of course, parenting. “Four children…that is easy! Syrians have seven or eight!” laughs the family patriarch while Marina translates.

As our time together comes to an end, I feel a bit deflated. I’m not sure if we are a solid match. They live in the south end, we are in the north while Marina lives close to a community of new Canadians in Vanier. Our matched family has two sons at Arabic school until 2pm on Saturdays which of course must continue. Sundays are out. How can we possibly navigate the logistics? How can we go to community events? I envisioned all 8 children playing together while the parents prattled on about news, culture, differences and similarities. I hoped for a connection, the women touching arms in non-verbal understanding of what motherhood means. The husband’s throwing back their heads as they guffaw about a shared joke. Not immediately, but maybe with time. I chastise myself. Really, Erin? I mean, did I actually expect a made-for-tv movie? I’m embarrassed to say that I hoped. I remind myself that hope is prickly and can either expose its soft underside or bite with disappointment.

The following Saturday, Marina, Lon and I meet to discuss our experience. The decision is made that given the logistics, we may not be the right match and should meet with Bonnie to provide feedback.

Ugh. I dread being the bearer of bad news but I make contact anyway. Much to my relief but not entirely a surprise, Bonnie welcomes our insight. We don’t want these good people to feel “dumped” and I feel a surge of guilt. She assures us that she will find a better match for them and for us. Again, I walk through Hintonburg feeling relieved then….wait…I will have to meet more new people. What if they don’t like us? What if we’re not a good match…again? What if we’re not right for this program? Anxiety tiptoes across my back and coils itself comfortably in my guts. It sits there feeding on my every insecurity. Being introverted is hard work. I make yet another cake and prepare 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.