Safe place to Start Over

Danette Dooley
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You can hear several soft voices singing "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean" beyond the pink door at the Association for New Canadians (ANC) Child Minding Centre in St. John's.

I open the door quietly, trying not to disturb the toddlers and adults sitting on the floor in a corner of the room.

Four-year-old Nthelezie Mhango (top) originally from Tanzania, and Daniel Mang, 3, from New Delhi have fun with shaving cream. - Photos by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

You can hear several soft voices singing "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean" beyond the pink door at the Association for New Canadians (ANC) Child Minding Centre in St. John's.

I open the door quietly, trying not to disturb the toddlers and adults sitting on the floor in a corner of the room.

The children - all between the ages of one and two - sit close to the adults. They don't know the words, but they're lulled by the music.

The Child Minding Centre is a non-registered daycare where children of new Canadians are cared for while their parents learn English at the ANC Language Training Centre in the same facility.

Unlike at the licensed International Friends Day-Care Centre operating down another corridor, the parents of these children must remain on site.

What the children all have in common is that they are new Canadians. Their families have come to this country searching for a better life.

Lorraine Angelopoulos, principal of the Language Training Centre, says staff and volunteers at the school, as well as the federal government, are intent on helping these people start over.

"Government knows how important it is for our clients to access language training in their early years in Canada," she says. "And our day-care centres enable them to do that."

Both centres are federally funded, and the provincial government and the United Way provide funding for nutritious snacks and supplementary programs.

A walk down the hall to the International Friends Day-Care Centre finds six preschoolers sitting at a small table, engrossed in an art project involving small mounds of shaving cream. One boy makes swirls in it with his hands, while a girl scoops up some of the white fluff and makes hand-washing motions.

Like the children who attend the Child Minding Centre, these preschoolers come from many different countries - India, Serbia, Sudan, Columbia and Tanzania.

None know how to speak English when they first arrive, says Norma Hatcher, who's been operating the centre for 16 years.

"After about a month or so they start to pick up a little bit of language. By then, they're calling us by name and they can tell us if they want a glass of water or want to go to the washroom."

Although many children adjust quickly, there are often separation issues between parent and child.

"There are times when we have had to have parents and children stay together (every session) for about a month," Hatcher says.

Sharing can also be an issue for children who have never had toys to play with, Hatcher says.

However, with the right guidance from daycare staff, those issues are also easily resolved.

Upon meeting this reporter for the first time, several of the children reached for my hand to lead me to their table. Another puts his arms in the air, indicating he wanted to be picked up for a cuddle.

Their spontaneity with a stranger likely comes from having spent time in refugee camps, Hatcher says.

"When they're living in camps everybody in the camp took care of them, it wasn't just the parents. Everyone pitched in to help," she explains.

Children at the centre quickly learn they are in a safe place where they can have fun.

Hatcher watches a child pile sand into a cup before emptying it into the back of a dump truck. She says even such simple things can take a little time to learn.

"A lot of our children are so amazed when they come and see our sandbox," she says. "They start eating the sand and they call it sugar.

"Some of the children aren't drinking enough milk. Some are undernourished. So we provide snacks and encourage them to eat healthy food."

The children are taught eight areas of development, all of which help develop their creativity and help give them the skills they need to begin school.

"By the time they start kindergarten, they know how to print their names," Hatcher says. "They know how to spell their names. They know all their colours and their numbers and their alphabet."

Lioudmila Pike works at the Child Minding Centre. Originally from Russia, her ties to the ANC Language Training Centre date back more than a decade.

"Lorraine was my teacher and I really like her," she says of Angelopoulos. "She gave me so much and she's so good to people like me in helping us learn English."

She understands the fear some children face when they first come to their new country as well as the apprehension parents may feel but are unable to express.

However, Pike says like her, these new families will likely find what they've been searching for - thanks to support from the ANC.

"It was a difficult time coming to Canada," she says. "But I married a Newfoundland guy and we're very happy together. Newfoundland is my home now."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Child Minding Centre, ANC Language Training Centre, Care Centre United Way

Geographic location: St. John's, Canada, India Serbia Sudan Columbia Tanzania Newfoundland Russia

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