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Reaching out to immigrant women

How the Howe Sound Women’s Centre is helping the corridor’s newcomers

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Oksana Danylchenko pensively brings her index finger to her chin, the smell of blueberry muffins sweetening the air around her. In front of her, on a big, black glass-top table in a backroom of the Howe Sound Women’s Centre in Squamish, is a personal essay she wrote as part of the ESL curriculum built into the Multicultural Outreach Services (MOS) program started about two and a half years ago.

Teacher Nicole Moore is looking over her writing, talking about root words, about prefixes and suffixes. Today, Moore also grades the work of two other immigrant women: Irina Gracheva, from Russia, and Maggie Lee, from South Korea.

Funded by the province and proceeds from Pearl’s 2nds, MOS offers a variety of services, from translation to transitional housing, educational advice to the procurement of clothes and furniture needed to start life in a foreign land. Further, there’s also help for children who have borne witness to violence. Although there are no refugees currently in the program, it’s there for them should some arrive.

This ESL component has Moore coming in every second week. Attendance can range from these three women to a dozen more.

“I think it’s been needed for quite a while,” says Jaz Giri, who heads up the program. “We didn’t have anything like that in our community. It serves as a support system for immigrant families, or women, in this case.”

For the past two years, Lee has been living in Squamish with her husband and two children, who attend local schools. The month of September could be a milestone as far as her life in Canada goes: She’s expecting her visa, which has been two years coming.

“I have to run my own business,” she says over coffee in Squamish. “It takes a long time to solve problems. A lot of problems. I applied for a work permit. I applied in May, and I can’t get it. I have no problems with my passport, my situation.”

But bureaucratic wheels turn to their own rhythms.

Gracheva, who has been in Canada since July, has encountered a different set of difficulties. She holds two degrees from Russia, one in mathematics and one in managerial studies. She’d like to be an accountant, but knows she’ll need auxiliary education to meet Canadian standards. Still, she’s happy to be in Canada, thinks highly of the country’s social services and is enthusiastic about her children leveraging new opportunities.

“With my husband, we think it’s a better place for our children, better colleges and more opportunities,” she says.

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