They are called Living Libraries, and they provide people with an opportunity to learn firsthand what it is like to immigrate to Canada, leaving all they know and are familiar with behind.
“There’s a huge misconception that people leave their country because people want to, and because it is going to be so much easier the second they get here,” said Petrusia Hontar, who works with the St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership. “There are a lot of struggles that newcomers face. The push and pull, because they are being pushed out and because they think the opportunities here seem to be better. But settling into a place is not always easy.”
The event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 22, from noon until 3 p.m., at the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre located at 301 Talbot St.
“It’s an event that offers a safe place to build an understanding between community members,” said Hontar. “The goal of this event is to increase awareness of the diversity and history of the cultures in the region by connecting with individuals through shared stories of their immigration and settlement experiences.”
Attendees will have 15 minutes to sit down to hear and talk about their experiences of becoming part of the community.
“We really encourage a conversation. They are not going to be reading to you, they are not going to have a script,” said Hontar. “They will probably give you a brief overview of their experience and then ask questions. We’re obviously going to ask you not to ask anything that is invasive or confrontational, but ask ‘Help me understand.’ or ‘What was your experience?’”
This is the second year for the event, Hontar has already seen the impact the event had on the newcomers.
“They just felt so empowered. People will often internalize their struggles and have a hard time,” she said. “Some people come to Canada with no challenges, and some people come to Canada with a whole lot of challenges. Being able to be heard and being able to hear really goes a long way.”
There is no charge for the event. A cafe will be available where individuals can purchase tea, coffee and international desserts.
In addition to the refreshments, Hontar believes the event provides an opportunity for learning.
“Hopefully a better understanding of our community . . . what it means to be part of (it) and just the diversity that exists here,” she said. “It is really easy to look at our numbers, where we have very low visible minorities and low levels of immigration, but they are here. And often, they become very isolated because they are not integrating as quickly into the bigger community. Hopefully new friends will emerge, and hopefully someone can be open to inviting them into their community — that’s a big one.”