As we’ve adjusted to the “new normal” of online programs and remote settlement support service delivery, many clients expressed a desire for additional English practice or social interaction, often both. An impressive 30 volunteers stepped up to mentor clients one-on-one through weekly phone calls.
GGP has long had a mentoring program with volunteers assisting clients in various ways, whether providing language practice, offering friendship and support, or studying for the citizenship test. But with many of us feeling more isolated due to COVID, these weekly “meetings” have taken on new meaning for both clients and volunteers.
We interviewed three new volunteer-client pairs about their first few weeks of mentoring during COVID. Despite each pair taking a unique approach to mentoring, the benefits seem to be universal.
Farnoosh & Samme: Preparing for IELTS
Farnoosh, who has a master’s degree in TESOL and is currently studying for the CERTESL, started volunteering in a GGP Literacy class one week before COVID stopped in-person classes. Farnoosh decided to utilize her ESL teaching experience to mentor Samme, who recently arrived from Bangladesh and is preparing for her IELTS exam.
Farnoosh and Samme treat their weekly call as a class, setting an objective for each one. In addition to conversing about different topics, Samme also practises her presentation skills. Samme watches TED Talks and then presents a summary along with her own ideas about the topic. So far, Samme has presented on the benefits of emotions as well as mental health in the workplace.
Before starting the mentoring program, Samme wholly relied on books for studying. Farnoosh began recommending online resources (like TED Talks) and in just a few weeks, Farnoosh noticed an increase in Samme’s comfort with and enthusiasm for digital learning.
For Samme and Farnoosh, the social interaction is as important as the English practise. Samme says, “I miss GGP–it’s a very good place where I learn many things and have met many people. Because of how COVID would affect my family, I don’t meet people right now and always stay at home. Farnoosh helps me so much with speaking, listening, and writing every Monday. She is so friendly and cordial. Thank you Farnoosh!”
Farnoosh says, “Samme and I are both new so the social aspect is definitely a benefit. I love communicating and interacting. When Samme said she enjoyed the class, I felt good. It helped me a lot, too.”
Ishita & Roja: Conversations between friends
Ishita began volunteering with GGP in January as she transitioned to writing her thesis and wanted more social interaction. She says, “I thought since I’m an immigrant, why not volunteer with other newcomers? Every person has unique stories and experiences they can share.” Ishita started volunteering in our Communication Circle and found she really connected with clients. When asked if she would also be interested in one-on-one mentoring calls, Ishita was a little apprehensive about how conversations would flow.
Any concerns were quickly put to rest during her first call with Roja. The two immediately found they had a lot in common. Ishita says, “We talk about life and how we’re feeling. At first we weren’t willing to be vulnerable, but now we’re willing to go deep.”
Roja became interested in working with a volunteer mentor after starting to work from home due to COVID. “Now I don’t have much contact with people outside of email and texting. I was worried this would affect my speaking.”
Her calls with Ishita cover a range of topics, from their routines and plans for the weekend to subjects like different types of intelligences. Roja says, “We can share information and Ishita can answer my questions. She knows more about Canadian culture and the city, which is beneficial.”
Ishita appreciates the interaction and “sense of structure” she gets from both mentoring and volunteering in an online GGP English class. “My mood is lifted, I feel a lot better. It gives me a sense of purpose. My family says I’m more pleasant to be around.” Ishita notes that clients often give her advice that helps her a lot.
Talking with both Ishita and Roja, the word that comes up is friend. Roja says, “Ishita is a very respectful lady who tries to help me as much as she can. By introducing topics, she teaches me new words that help me in conversation. I can say Ishita is my friend.”
Walter & Abdullah: Making Saskatchewan home
During Walter’s decade-long relationship with GGP, he’s held many volunteer roles: active member of Coffee and Conversation, mentor to a number of clients, and even a Board Member. When asked about his motivation to volunteer, Walter says, “I feel I’m rewarded more than I give. I’ve learned so much about other countries. I really enjoy meeting new people, and not just meeting them but getting to know them.” Through volunteering at GGP, Walter has made real friendships with clients that continue years later.
Walter retired from a career in psychology and his honed listening and communication skills serve him well as a mentor. “Building trust is incredibly important,” he says.
Walter paired with Abdullah, who is originally from Syria. Abdullah was concerned about losing the language progress he made in class before COVID, saying, “If I wasn’t practising, I knew I would forget. I also wanted to learn new words and sentences to make my skills better.” Initial conversations focused on Abdullah’s arrival in Saskatoon, his goals, and background. Abdullah asks Walter about English terms he hears, such as “physical distancing.”
Abdullah and Walter’s conversations have become warmer over the weeks, and recently they were able to meet at the park (practising physical distancing of course). “It was fun to meet at the park and river,” Abdullah says. “Walter helped me learn about the animals and birds.” Abdullah hasn’t explored much of Saskatchewan yet so Walter hopes they can venture out together once it’s safe to do so.
Already it’s clear that these new relationships provide valuable opportunities to connect during this period of heightened isolation. We’re so grateful to all the volunteers and clients for their participation in the mentoring program!