Can you start by telling me a little about yourself and how you first got involved with Together Project?
I am from Lebanon and have been in Canada for five years. I experienced war in my home country and came as an immigrant to Canada, because my daughter was already here.
I was looking for somewhere to volunteer and heard 25,000 Syrian refugees were coming to Canada – I asked myself where are they? Then one day, someone contacted me and said they need someone who can speak Arabic.
I came to a hotel downtown and that’s where I first met Kate (Steering Committee Chair), she was so energetic and wanted to help everybody. Canada is very different from back home, Canadians I find are all willing to help people who they have never met and who are from completely different cultures.
I began going to the hotel almost every day and staying until 10pm in the evening. It was overwhelming at that time, and they needed a lot of help. I helped translate with everything from doctors appointments to apartment showings – I went everywhere in the city with families.
Since then how have you continued to be involved with Together Project?
I help with Arabic translation between volunteers and newcomers. At the beginning I was in almost every WhatsApp chat translating. It gave me a lot of hope that I am doing something useful. I never knew my language could provide so much help in Canada.
It was often really critical things they needed help with. For example, I would get calls from families at the pharmacy requesting translation about their medication.
I am happy to help, I feel good when I am helping someone. A lot of the families have much better English now and I am friends with almost all of the families. Even now some families still reach out for help translating, I consider the families graduates if they don’t need me to translate anymore.
Now whenever the Together Project needs any help I am happy to do it.
What was it like to see the volunteers and newcomers interact in the matches?
For me, this was amazing to see. There are a lot of Canadians that really like to volunteer, to give their time and help navigate the new culture.
The volunteers were really into it, they tried to help with anything. This helps a lot for newcomers, because they miss their family back home. Having these friendships is so important to help you settle in a new country, with a new culture and new rules.
What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering with Together Project?
There will be some cultural shock for both sides, and so you need to have patience working with a new family. Be ready to answer questions, a lot of things are different for them from back home.
You can help them learn about this new culture, with school, to go to the bank and with transportation.
During COVID-19 have there been new challenges that you’ve seen for families?
This is completely different for newcomers and for me. We have all already survived a real war and we know what a real war means. It means bombings, no electricity, no water and sometimes no food.
Some people consider COVID-19 like a war, but for me it is not. Because you are home and can stay safe. There are so many organizations stepping up to help people. It’s a completely different story. You can sleep without worrying a bomb will come or someone might break into your house.
Why do you find it so important to volunteer?
As a senior person, I want to do something and volunteering is something I really like. It’s an opportunity for me to give as much as I can. I am so happy helping people who need it.
This opportunity satisfies me which is why I started doing it and why I am still doing it.
Interview by Natasha Comeau