Client spotlight: Maryam

Before arriving from Aleppo 1 year and 8 months ago, Maryam was afraid of the Saskatoon cold she’d read about, coming from a place with a low of -4 degrees. But like many other challenges Maryam has faced, she started her new life with positivity and determination.

Maryam arrived to Canada with dreams of going to college or getting a good job within a year of arriving. In Syria, she had previously attended college, worked as a fashion designer, and was an artist with a big extended family and busy life. However, when she arrived everything was new—the language, culture, and of course the weather. The language barrier was massive and even with daily English classes, progress was slower than expected. Another surprise was the high cost of college. While the reality was different than her expectations, Maryam immediately appreciated the “humanistic and just” spirit of Canada.

In terms of social connections, Maryam’s private sponsors were key and quickly became her Canadian role models. A wonderful cook, Maryam hosts monthly dinners for her sponsors, preparing Middle Eastern food for about 15 people. She also took a job cooking at a Middle Eastern restaurant in the evenings, and spent three months working with the Saskatoon Academy of Fashion Design. Maryam maintains her small home business offering fashion design and tailoring, in addition to taking English classes.

When Maryam arrived to Saskatoon, she initially took English classes at local school but they didn’t offer other activities. At another organization, she didn’t get much help when she enquired about their offerings. Maryam came to GGP and met Doha, who sat with her and discussed the programs. Maryam says Doha gave her encouragement and hope, and Maryam decided to attend Coffee and Conversation, despite not speaking or understanding English. She smiles recalling a man from Egypt who translated back and forth so she and the others could talk.

Outside of private sponsors, Maryam didn’t have much other social interaction until she came to GGP. Volunteers Lawrence, Alan, and Walter became dear connections and she became friends with many others as well. Maryam jumped into other GGP programs and has since participated in more programs than almost any other client!

Maryam says, “I find all of GGP’s programs are valuable, useful, helpful, and all the team are very kind.” Swimming Without Fear enabled Maryam to learn to swim and get comfortable with water. Family, Fun & Fit helped her learn about the area and meet other newcomers. Coffee & Conversation, GGP’s longest running program, has allowed Maryam to meet people from all over the world, practise English, and feel welcomed.

GGP also connected Maryam to a local art program through a partnership with Void Gallery, through which she shared her story of being a refugee with the broader community. Creating her gorgeous zine “love and war” allowed Maryam to use her artistic skills to share her story with others in both Arabic and English.

When asked about the most memorable moments in Saskatoon, Maryam talks about the “very nice and humble people”. For example, she says, on the bus maybe nobody will give her their seat but they will look at her and smile. It’s hard not to smile at Maryam, whose warmth is contagious. We are so glad she is part of the GGP community!

Promoting better refugee health outcomes with the Cultural Health Navigator program

Universal healthcare is a value that many Canadians hold with high regard as a representation of Canada’s dedication to equality and caring for others. For the most part the healthcare system functions well to provide all Canadians with the care they need, but at times, the vastness of the system makes it inaccessible and intimidating even to those born and raised in Canada. If you are a newcomer to Canada with limited English knowledge and social connections, navigation challenges may deter you from seeking healthcare altogether.

Cultural gaps in healthcare

The Global Gathering Place has worked in the area of newcomer health since 2014 through our Providing Access to Healthcare (PATH) program. During this time, GGP found that difficulties in accessing healthcare disproportionately affects new refugees, and that additional support was needed.

Funded primarily by the Saskatoon Community Foundation in conjunction with various other funders, we launched the Cultural Health Navigator (CHN) program under the PATH umbrella. GGP identifies and trains “Cultural Health Navigators” who have a similar language and cultural background as our new refugee clients to provide not only language interpretation for these clients, but also cultural mediation, advocacy, and other support as needed during these clients’ interactions with the healthcare system.

PATH staff have trained nine Cultural Health Navigators and many are actively working in the field.  The Navigators come from a variety of cultural backgrounds and speak languages including Arabic, Tigrinya, Amharic, Afar, Saho, Kirundi, and Swahili.

Initial responses to the program

Since the program began, the CHNs have reported connecting with clients in meaningful ways due to having similar experiences when settling in Canada. Health literacy is a part of CHN training, so the CHNs and clients often have conversations about a variety of health topics, along with the many other settlement topics that inevitably arise.

Some clients have expressed that they have become more comfortable going to medical appointments since being paired with a CHN. Having someone from their own cultural and linguistic background to work with them has enabled these clients to slowly become more open to engaging in their health.

The knowledge gap affects both parties, the client and the healthcare provider, so another important role of the Navigators is educating providers on the client’s cultural context in order to promote greater mutual understanding. Overall feedback from healthcare providers has been positive; several have called the CHN program a necessary and helpful service.

We are excited about the success of the program thus far and will continue to monitor both clients’ and healthcare providers’ experiences in relation to the program.

This post was written by Joyce Reimer, Cultural Health Navigator Facilitator at the Global Gathering Place. For more information about the CHN or PATH programs, please reach out to

Volunteer Highlight: Mohamed

Meet Mohamed, a volunteer with both GGP’s Computer 1 and Computer 3 classes. Six months ago, Mohamed, his wife Maha (pictured), and their children arrived from Cairo where Mohamed was a civil engineer for 13 years specializing in bridges, so he is a perfect addition to the City of Bridges! We asked Mohamed a couple questions which he graciously answered below.

Why did you decide to volunteer with GGP?: I wanted to do something useful for the community. I learned from my parents that if I can help others, I should, whether it’s neighbours, extended family, or strangers. In Egypt as a senior engineer I offered to teach and mentor junior engineers. Right now I’m looking for a job so in the meantime I’m volunteering and taking English classes.

What do you like about volunteering in GGP’s computer classes? I like helping students increase their knowledge and get to know technology, which is the language of the century.  Seeing their progress is rewarding.

What’s challenging about it? The low level of tech knowledge combined with low English level can make it difficult for students to understand concepts. Sometimes we speak the same native language so we can communicate easier but other times I just try to use basic English words and instruct them through showing how to do the tasks.

How is your family adjusting to Saskatoon? We love it here. We don’t like cities that are too big, so going from 10 million people to Saskatoon feels like a lot of pressure off. It’s a slower pace and there’s more time to spend together.

We are thankful to Mohamed for his many hours of assisting clients as they build their computer skills, which helps them find employment and with many other aspects of life. If you see him at GGP, be sure to say hello!