Carbonear — Newfoundland and Labrador is a good place to live and the locals are friendly, but when it comes to welcoming newcomers to our province, immigrants agree there is room for improvement.
Noor Yousif, a cardiac technician originally from Iraq, moved to Carbonear last year after living in Ontario. Jean Madi, originally from Lebanon, has lived in the area for 15 years. He operates Big Bite Pizza in Bay Roberts.
Both took part in a recent panel discussion in Carbonear.
“This is a good place to live, but it needs to be more opening to newcomers,” Madi suggested.
The panel discussion, entitled “Welcoming Diversity — What Will it Take?” was held at the Carbonear campus of the College of the North Atlantic as part of the launch of a newcomer website (http://immigration.aroundthebay.ca/).
The site is a joint project of Mariner Resource Opportunities Network (M-RON) and the Town of Carbonear. It’s designed to help newcomers find information on services and resources in their new communities, and to help municipalities, organizations and businesses attract and retain newcomers to their communities.
Kerri Abbott, project co-ordinator with M-RON, said they tried to keep the website simple, straightforward and user-friendly.
She said newcomers to the area were having trouble finding physicians and schools, seamstresses and music lessons. The site covers living here, moving here, working here, coping with stress, people and communities, medical services and shopping, child care, places of worship, recreation and social activities.
Gary Munden, chairman of the M-RON zonal board, said the site was started in Carbonear, but they hope it will expand to include the entire Baccalieu Trail region.
“This website is a very good idea,” Yousif said.
Despite her command of the English language, she said when she moved here, “it was very difficult” to find things in her new community — so frustrating, in fact, that she ended up going back to Ontario for awhile before returning to Carbonear.
“This is a very good website for people who are new to this area,” she said.
Madi said while he struggled with English at first, he learned to speak it, because “I wanted to be part of the community. I wanted to be successful.”
“Some people may think we’re here only for the money; we’re not. As fellow human beings you need to be more open to us and give us more credit if we make mistakes,” he said.
A third panel member, Debbie Sheppard, recruits physicians from around the world for Eastern Health.
She said she was excited about the website launch, and noted, “Education is the key and this portal is going to be a good recruitment tool. We need some sort of mentorship in our communities. (Newcomers) need to be welcomed.”
Sheppard said we need newcomers and we can learn more from them than we might imagine.
Pointing out that a lot of new immigrants feel lost, Yousif said, “it’s very important to help them fit in. We need to educate people on multiculturalism; that’s very important. It’s OK to be friends.”
Living in a new land can be “lonely and depressing,” she added.
“I’m sorry to say it, but Newfoundland and Labrador is becoming like a stepping stone, for those who only stay for a while and then they are gone.”
The discussion touched on the advantages of living in communities like Carbonear — such as large open spaces, clean air and the proximity to St. John’s.
One advantage that impressed Yousif was the safe living conditions.
She’s amazed that some people in rural Newfoundland don’t lock their doors at night and don’t have alarm systems.
“In Ontario, there isn’t a home that doesn’t have an alarm system,” she suggested.
“It’s safe here; it’s a good place to raise a family. I’d like to make it home. It’s a safe community — that’s very important. I think it’s good here. I’m happy. It’s close to the university, so I can go back to school.”
“I love the area. I reached out, got involved in the community and am now part of the family. I’m a Lebanese Newfoundlander.
“If you want to live here, you have to make it your home.”