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Victoria-Fraserview: Community group connects with South Vancouver residents

Egyptian immigrant keen to help newcomers settle into Canadian life
Sherifa Azzab
When Sherifa Azzab arrived in Canada in 2011, she felt a little lost but found support and help at the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House. photo Dan Toulgoet

Sherifa Azzab faced a mountain of challenges when she immigrated to Vancouver from Egypt in July 2011 with her two sons. She didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I didn’t know where is government buildings that I have to go to do my things, how to use the transit. And my child in the school, he couldn’t make friends, he was feeling lonely, we didn’t know where to spend our time, we were very bored,” she said.

“So when I found [out] about the [South Vancouver] Neighbourhood House, really, I started enjoying life here in Canada because they helped me so I wanted to make this to newcomers, also.”

Azzab got involved with the Community Action Network, which was born out of the neighbourhood house, at the end of September to help other immigrants experience fewer hardships than she did as they work to build a new life in Vancouver.

The group that formed last January to lessen feelings of isolation among residents of the Victoria-Fraserview and Killarney area and to boost a sense of safety and trust is holding its second newcomer welcoming event at the neighbourhood house Nov. 16.

The free event includes presentations about programs at the neighbourhood house, information about community resources, a safety talk from the police department, music, dance and refreshments.

Victoria-Fraserview is a mainly residential area that stretches from East 41st Avenue to the Fraser River and Knight Street east to the Fraserview Golf Course and Vivian Street. Nearly half of the residents of Victoria-Fraserview speak a language other than English at home. Prominent languages are Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Kwangyoung Conn, the multicultural settlement and labour market worker at the neighbourhood house, says the area is home to a large number of refugees.

Koyali Burman, the community development coordinator at the neighbourhood house who overseas the project, says a “pro” of diversity is that you can get to learn about different cultures but a “con” is that doing so “takes a long time.”

“Especially at the Victoria-Fraserview area, there’s not much happening even after hours of the neighbourhood house, like after 5 o’clock there is nothing other than the [Killarney] Community Centre,” Burman said. “So people are not enough connected, they don’t know where to go, what to do, how to socialize.”

Burman says the seven newcomers and eight longtime residents who lead the program are developing various initiatives to assist new immigrants, including a heritage exchange program where participants would share their backgrounds with one another at the neighbourhood house and elsewhere in the community. Community Action Network has also partnered with the Engaging Neighbourhoods Initiative that focuses on children and youth.

Burman believes the key to their success in easing new immigrants into Vancouver will be its place-based approach. She said the group hopes to develop a model that could be used by other communities.

The Newcomer Welcoming Events runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at 6470 Victoria Dr.