Like most immigrants, Jean Makosz came to Canada in search of a better life. But unlike many, the Scottish woman had a firm grip on the language.
Still, she faced many challenges. And it is because of that experience she now volunteers at the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services centre in Penticton.
“I wanted to volunteer here because it’s close to my heart,” said Makosz. “I understand when you first immigrate you are far from your family and there are a lot of challenges ahead. I didn’t even have the challenge of learning the language, but when you put that component in it makes it much more difficult.”
The now retired teacher moved to Canada in 1979 with her husband, who worked long hours as he tried to establish himself in his career.
“The first year for me was hard and I think it is for everyone. That is why a place like this is so valuable,” said Makosz of SOICS, where she now volunteers her time teaching in a conversation club.
“Students can learn, get to know each other, build relationships and a support network that otherwise they wouldn’t have and would be on their own. If you face a crisis, even a fairly minor one, and you don’t have someone that you can pick up the phone and chat to, it is very difficult. It can be a sense of being totally powerless.”
SOICS is dedicated to building a community based on mutual respect to assist newcomers in connecting with their community, increasing the capacity of the community to understand, welcoming people of all cultural backgrounds and helping combat racism. Some of the non-profit’s services include English language and computer classes, senior immigrant program, a learning centre, employment services and early childhood programs.
“There is always new people coming, so I can be in a room with people from China, Brazil, Korea, Europe, Mexico, all different nationalities and backgrounds and we can be laughing and talking. To me it is just amazing and I love seeing how people just come together. That has been so enriching, along with hearing their stories of why they came to Canada and their cultures. People can come here from all over the world, settle in, make a good life for themselves and be treated fairly, and I think we need to celebrate that multiculturalism,” said Makosz.
The South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services is hosting a festival to do just that as part of an initiative to celebrate the diverse cultural heritage in British Columbia.
The event takes place at the Cherry Lane shopping centre Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The festival features live performances by elementary school students, belly dancers, Aboriginal hip hop dancers, musicians, marital arts demonstrations, a fashion show on Saturday and interactive games and activities for all ages.