Helping to empower newcomer families
“Our families live so similarly in so many ways. Both cultures tend to take off their shoes at the doorway, both have similar styles of humour….”
Imagine arriving in a new country with your family, not knowing a soul, not knowing a word of the language, not knowing if the leap of faith you took was the right choice. Now imagine that scenario, but welcoming you in your new community is a local family ready with warm smiles, hot meals and friendship.
These are the special bonds and memories that participants in OCISO’s Friends of the Family program are creating all across Ottawa.
Stacey and Christa were friends already and they decided that they would join their two families together to become a volunteer Group of Friends.
Between them they have 5 kids ranging from 2-9 years old. They were matched to Salloum and Buchra and their 6 kids, ranging from 3 months to 9 years.
When the families were first introduced, there were lots of awkward smiles and hand gestures. They were matched at one of the Friends of the Family events (held monthly to bring together families and Groups of Friends in a social and recreational setting).
Groups of Friends will gain a better understanding of the refugee experience, eliminating barriers to integration and creating a safer and more interconnected community.
After getting to know one another and sharing some homemade snacks, the kids were chatting and playing together like best friends despite the language barrier. Fast-forward a few months, and these families have developed a strong bond that will likely last a lifetime.
Stacey says the experience has been “rewarding and enriching, and great for the entire family to make new connections with new people.” Christa and her family have cherished their visits with their matched family and says:
“Our families live so similarly in so many ways – Salloum actually pointed that out. Both cultures tend to take off their shoes at the doorway, both have similar styles of humour. So it was very much like meeting and getting to know long lost relatives. It’s opened up our eyes, including my children’s, and has brought us a long-term friendship with people we would never have met had it not been for OCISO.”
As for Salloum and Buchra, they feel that their new Canadian friends
“are part of our family and that the program is better and more than we expected. We learned what we should do and how to act in Canada.”
By forming these social connections with local Ottawans, newcomer families will improve their English, feel part of their community, and eventually have improved education, employment and mental health outcomes.
The Friends of the Family program matches recently arrived refugee families to volunteer Groups of Friends in Ottawa. It helps them build social capital, facilitate their integration process, and reduce social isolation. The aim is to empower the newcomer families – by providing key social connections, fostering a sense of inclusion whereby they contribute their skills, values, and culture to enhance our community. Groups of Friends are comprised of families, friends, colleagues, neighbours – just about anyone who wants to extend a hand to newcomer families in the spirit of friendship and support.
If you would like to be involved in the Friends of the Family program, please contact the Project Coordinator: