It was wall-to-wall on the main floor of the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area’s clubhouse for Newcomers to Cochrane Night on Feb. 5.
For Paul Singh, dedicated volunteer who helps facilitate the event that looks to connect new Cochranites with both services and fellow community members, it was a glowing success.
“I do it from here … it has to come from the heart,” said Singh of his passion for community activism and volunteerism. “Cochrane is my family … I live here, work here, volunteer here. I have a big family.”
Singh knows firsthand the challenges of entering a new community, culture and country.
It was seven years ago when Singh first came to Canada as a student of hospitality and tourism from his home in the province of Punjab in northern India.
He has been in Cochrane since 2014, pursuing his dreams of working in his field of study and counting down the months until he becomes a Canadian citizen.
In the meantime, Singh keeps busy volunteering and working three jobs – as a bus driver for Southland Transportation, in RancheHouse facilities for the Town of Cochrane and food service at Tim Hortons in West Valley.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of this … we welcome everybody,” said Singh, who is encouraging more youth to start attending the events and noted that he has seen considerable growth in cultural diversity since he arrived to town.
For 19-year-old Luka Nunez, a landed immigrant from Venezuela, coming to Canada paves the way to pursue his own dreams of becoming a professional musician.
“I want to dedicate myself to music – something I can’t do in Venezuela, where the government decides what you do,” said Nunez, who played guitar at the event, accompanying singer Sarah Smith.
Richard Cruz has been in Cochrane for two years and hails from the Philippines.
“For us, this is a good opportunity to work and get a new life … this is a promise place for us,” said the married father of one, who works for both Tim Hortons and Wal-Mart.
Put on by Cochrane Immigrant Services and Cochrane Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), the biannual event began in the fall of 2016.
Other organizations, including Helping Hands, the Welcome Wagon and Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane Area were also present, among others.
Fleeha Ahmad is a program coordinator with Rocky View Immigrant Services (RVIS), a branch of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).
The crux of Ahmad’s work is settlement facilitation – helping new residents get their feet under them and connect to such community services as health care, child care, job training and resumé help and language classes.
Taking English classes is “highly encouraged” to alleviate integration barriers for newcomers.
“When you don’t know the language, you can’t do something as simple as go shopping … the first step of integration is to learn the language,” explained Ahmad, noting that senior immigrants are among those facing the highest rates of isolation and loneliness, largely due to language barriers.
Recent changes to allow for fast-tracking of Canadian citizenship have resulted in average wait times of three years from five years, as protected persons (refugees) and temporary foreign workers can now have time spent in the country counted toward their citizenship applications – as is the case for permanent residents.
Once citizenship is attained, individuals are on their own to pay for language classes – something Ahmad highlights as a reason to not rush the citizenship process and for newcomers to take advantage of the services available to them to prepare them for becoming a new Canadian.
To learn more or to connect with RVIS, visit ccisab.ca.