Barb's Story - A Volunteer Experience
Eight years ago my life changed drastically and I was looking for something interesting and meaningful that would keep me busy and give me lots to think about. My association with RODS started as a volunteer 4 years ago. My Progress Club had strong ties to RODS and a tour of Reception House sparked my interest in the idea of people coming to a new country and learning so much about living here in such a short time. I heard of the Welcoming Community for Newcomers (WCN) program where a volunteer is matched with a newcomer family to help bridge the gap, to show them around the city, help them get their homes set-up and to assist them with everyday living.
I have worked with a total of 3 families and one individual over the past 4 years. I’ll always be thankful that these lovely families trusted me enough to get so close to them. My involvement with them made me a better person.
One of the families, I was asked if I would consider hosting, was a Congolese family. Malam Kitika, his wife Francine and their 3 young children had just arrived from Zambia, Africa. Having had such a positive experience with my first families I was up for the challenge. The next part of my story is magical. I met the family at their apartment. I told them my story and they told me theirs. Their story is private and tragic and something I think of every day since I met them. We instantly bonded and have shared so much I don’t know where to start. I did manage to get some furniture and household items for them and helped decorate their cozy apartment. Malam, Francine and the children (my grandchildren) have become part of my family. They are included in family events and my kids and grandkids have happily shared me with them. My involvement with the Kitikas has brought an awareness to many. My own grandchildren are keenly aware of some of the problems and joys of being new to Canada. They have generously shared clothes and toys.
I have enjoyed many lovely African meals with them and they have tried many Canadian foods with me. It sounds like I’m bragging talking about all the things I’ve done for this family, but firstly I was asked to mention it and secondly you have to understand that with the bond that we have, nothing feels like work. I often tell Malam, “this is my labour of love,” my way of helping them that feeds my soul and makes me feel so needed and loved. Malam and Francine are very concerned about friends left behind in the refugee camp. We raised money and wired it over there to a friend in the camp who organized feasts for Xmas and Easter celebrations. We get pictures back of these lovely people enjoying food with friends. I have helped Malam find employment, taken them on a little holiday to Saskatoon to visit friends who had been in the camp with them. We had a huge celebration in Regina in April to honour the 1st anniversary of the two family’s arrival in Canada. I’ve taught them about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (with boxes of goodies complete with instructions for parents after bedtime). The kids have trick-or-treated with my other grandkids in costumes lovingly picked out by “Grandma”. I’ve gone to their Xmas concerts and glowed as they sat on Santa’s knee at a Xmas party hosted by my daughters. We had many picnics and fed many geese. We have celebrated Canada Day with a new appreciation of this wonderful country.
My life situation gives me plenty of time to get involved with these lovely people. I will always be appreciative of the opportunity to work with newcomers through the Open Door Society. They have given me patient training, skills and the confidence to help welcome these newcomers to Canada. Anything you might have to give would be appreciated. Whether you make a new friend or adopt a whole family, your life will be forever changed.
Barb Ryan & The Kitika Family