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This article was published 11/5/2014 (1168 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a province renowned for welcoming and helping immigrants settle, one small but friendly group of volunteers is making a huge difference in the lives of newcomers and established Canadians.
It's the Family-to-Family program in Winnipeg, and it brings them together.
"People get exposed to other families and people they wouldn't meet otherwise," said Erin Anderson with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba that runs the program in its seventh year.
The idea is to help a newcomer family get off to a good start in Winnipeg and give an established family a cross-cultural learning experience, she said. So far, around 60 families have taken part and it's affected people in subtle and major ways, said Anderson.
Families are matched by the ages of their children and get together three or four times throughout the summer for fun activities, such as a barbecue, going to The Forks or the beach, or attending an outdoor concert or event.
'It gave them more supports in their lives -- another person to go to if you're having a rough time -- someone to lean on for child care, get a different perspective on your kids' school -- the big-picture stuff'
It's the simple things that leave a lasting impression, past participants have told Anderson.
"The things they remember the most are having dinner together, going to a different neighbourhood," said Anderson. Sometimes the impact is profound.
"It can take them in another direction -- people ended up in different jobs," for example.
Some family pairings became mutual-aid societies.
"It gave them more supports in their lives -- another person to go to if you're having a rough time -- someone to lean on for child care, get a different perspective on your kids' school -- the big-picture stuff," said Anderson.
In 2011, Allyson Fedak and her seven-year-old son Dallas Robidoux volunteered for the Family-to-Family program. She was a university student at the time, volunteering with the kids program at IRCOM.
"I wanted to get involved with some kind of volunteering where I could bring my son," said Fedak, a teacher. "I wanted to give him an opportunity to have a different experience."
They ended up making new friends -- Jeannine Nziguheba, her husband, Mohsen Farati Kayenga and their four children Lionel, Richard, Pharos and Naila who arrived in Canada just six months earlier. The family is Congolese.
"I was really lucky," said Fedak.
"Jeannine speaks French, so do I and so do our children."
The two moms hit it off and so did their sons, Dallas and Richard. And they helped each other.
"We discovered a lot of places, like the zoo and Assiniboine Park," said Nziguheba, who learned to speak English so well she handles media interviews about the Family-to-Family program. Sitting next to Fedak, she said the program has expanded her family. "Now she's my dear sister."
Fedak, who was raising her son on her own and going to school at the time, said they benefited from the friendship, too.
"Jeannine used to take Dallas after school," said Fedak.
Dallas learned a fair bit of a third language -- Swahili -- and about the way people live.
"He has a better acceptance of diversity," his mom said. "He doesn't look at someone who does something different as strange."
Dallas is good friends with Richard and another boy who was born in Kenya and never thought about race until someone else brought it up, his mom said.
"Another child older than him said they couldn't be best friends because Dallas was white and his friend was black," said Fedak. They told the older boy he was wrong, and Dallas verbally "tore a strip off him," said his mother.
"I was really proud of him for that," she said. "He knows we're one human race."
There's a list of families from around the globe eager to meet a Canadian family, Anderson said. The program includes a training session on cross-cultural communication on May 27 and a get-to-know-you kick-off event for all of the host and newcomer families on Saturday, June 7.
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