Showcasing what Williams Lake has to offer newcomers to the community is the theme of a Cariboo Welcome Fair on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Thompson Rivers University.
Approximately 30 booths will be set up by local businesses and organizations, giving people the opportunity to sign up for workshops or classes and learn what services are available to individuals and families who have recently immigrated to the area.
Welcome Williams Lake coordinator Sharon Taylor at the Multicultural Services Society office said that the fair will be a great place for businesses and organizations to network, and a great place for community newcomers to find out what’s available.
“It’s an access party,” she explained.
“It’s a chance for newcomers to ‘put a face with the name’ and speak directly to the people who provide services they may need. They can gain more familiarity with the community and when the need is more immediate, there will already be a connection in place. For example, if they need day care, or employment they will know which organization can help.”
She noted that exhibitors will receive a summary of the vendors on site and what they do. “In a community like Williams Lake where we have a resource-based economy, the more viewpoints, attitudes, habits and ways of living we have, the less vulnerable we are. Diversity makes us more flexible, interesting and less prone to tunnel vision,” she said. “This ties us to a movement in Canada that has been going on for a year.”
Taylor also stated that it may come as a surprise what information is most often requested in her office – information that covers more than English as a second language. She said that 80 per cent of local immigrants are from the US and the UK so English isn’t an issue.
“There have been many changes in immigration and citizenship in the past five years. I’ve recently helped people with things like a residency card extension for parents and a four-year extension on a working holiday,” she added. “One recent change is that a family can no longer sponsor all family members to live in Canada: only your spouse and your children. Instead of being able to sponsor your parents, you can apply for a 10-year multi-entry visa, or a ‘super’ visa that allows someone to stay in Canada for up to two years.”
Taylor also said that just because you marry a Canadian doesn’t mean you automatically become a citizen. “The process can be complicated,” she added. “If you stay in your own country and your spouse is here, it takes about 10 months to process your application. If you marry and come here it takes about 23 months to become a permanent citizen.”
She said that her role is to listen to people and find out what they need. “I can’t always solve their problems but I can connect them with people who can. Our Prince George office is a great resource for us here – it’s a big office where they speak six languages and have lots of experience and legal support. It’s a phone call away,” she explained.
“Here, you get a real human being to talk to – not a phone message system. Sometimes frustration, anxiety and stress can be very high. People want to get answers and move to the next stage. They really want to be a member of the community.
“When you walk through the door here there is someone to shake your hand, say your name and ask, ‘How can I help?’”
One newcomer to Williams Lake who will be at the Cariboo Welcome Fair is TRU teacher and facilitator Nirach Suapa, who has a very positive connection to the Multicultural Services Society in Williams Lake.
He and his family have been living in Williams Lake for two years. He immigrated to Canada from Bankok, Thailand in 2005 to study English as a second language in Regina and entered the PHD program in 2006 to receive a doctorate in adult education and human resources.
He and his wife Teeraporn (Tip) Rackchopsanti have two children who were born in Regina and a third in Williams Lake in March. He said that he got his first job at TRU as an open learning facilitator and also teaches some courses in education.
“I was glad to find a multi-cultural office in Williams Lake. It helped when my wife wanted to take English classes,” he said. “I also direct multicultural students here to that office for help and assistance and have recommended them to people from Taiwan, India, Jamaica, Spain, Mexico and California. Most recently I sent a nurse from Hong Cong to visit the office.”
The multicultural office offers helpful things like job search skills, writing cover letters and resumes, according to Suapa, as well as job interview techniques and speaking skills.
“I see great benefit from the office for the people I’ve sent there,” he stated. “A community is richer when it welcomes diversity. I’ve learned a lot from this community, especially from First Nations people I’ve met.
“When there is diversity people can understand different perspectives from people around the world and learn from each other.”
The Cariboo Welcome Fair will take place at TRU on Saturday, September 28 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit www.imss.ca/welcoming_wlake.php, phone 778-412-2999, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the office at 118C N 1st Ave.