Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 1/7/2012 (2024 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg is renowned for its ethnic restaurants, stores and multicultural events such as Folklorama. But for some people, those celebrations of Canada's diversity don't go deep enough.
They want to experience more.
On Canada Day, Irene and Clyde Manswell are going all the way.
The retired nurse and doctor are hosting a family of Bhutanese refugees for supper at their home in Island Lakes.
"This Sunday, for the first time, we're going to have them over," said Irene. She and Clyde, both 76, signed up for the family-to-family summer program at IRCOM House.
The not-for-profit Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba runs a 67-suite transitional housing complex on Ellen Street for 300 recent newcomers and provides settlement-support services. The family-to-family program matches newcomers with settled Canadian families to spend some time together during the summer.
Chandra and Yamuna Bajgai, their twins and his parents arrived in Canada as government-assisted refugees from Nepal in September 2010. They had a baby a month ago, and the twins are now four.
The Manswells signed on to welcome the Bajgais to Friendly Manitoba because they know what it's like to move to a foreign country and not know a soul.
"We spent five years in Belgium," said Irene. They moved there as a young couple while her husband studied medicine. They had to learn Dutch quickly for his university classes and her hospital nursing job — and they were raising an 18-month-old daughter.
"It was very lonesome," she said. "We were accustomed to living in Winnipeg and having all our family nearby."
Unlike refugees, she knew they'd return to Canada in a few years. Refugees may never be able to return to the countries they fled.
"It must be hard," said Irene.
Moving to a foreign country would've been "too much to take" if it hadn't been for some friendly Belgians, she said.
"People over there took us into their home and invited us to weddings and birthdays. They took us in like their family. We want to do things for these people who are new here. We want to show them the hospitality we received in Belgium.
"We want to give back."
Reading about the family-to-family program in the newspaper brought back old memories and inspired the Manswells to take action.
"We're both retired and we don't have too much to do," said Irene. They were available during the summer and decided now was a good time to roll out their welcome mat.
On Canada Day, their son and grandkids will be at the gathering with the Bajgais. Irene is cooking some Indian dishes — including goat, which she's never prepared before — especially for Chandra's parents. She's not worried about communication.
"They're all taking English as a second language (classes)," said Irene. Chandra is the most fluent and Yamuna is picking it up. Chandra's parents rely on a lot of gesturing.
"It's not easy when you're older. I had difficulty in Dutch. I just learned enough to talk to patients."
Irene and Clyde said Sunday's get-together isn't a Canada Day party but they may take their new Canadian guests to check out the July 1 fireworks.
"We might eventually end up at The Forks," said Irene.
Chandra Bajgai is grateful for new friends reaching out to his family.
"It's important. I practise to speak better English and find a job," he said. "And Canadian friends tell you how you can find a job."
So far it hasn't worked, though. "Many times I'm applying with a resumé. No one accepted me." He'll keep at it, though, he said.
"I'm learning English. My wife and I are often going to school — I go in the morning and she goes in the afternoon." His parents are really struggling to learn English, he said.
One thing the Bhutanese don't struggle with is being friendly, said Vanessa Kornelsen, who co-ordinates the family-to-family program for residents of IRCOM House.
"Within the Bhutanese community, people are very open," said Kornelsen. "I'll be walking down the hall in front of their apartment, Yamuna sees me and says 'Come and eat!' I'll say 'No, Yamuna I don't have time.' She looks up at me, puts her hand on my stomach and says "It's empty, come and eat!' "
Manitoba is friendly enough to have the word emblazoned on its licence plates, "but not compared to the Nepali community," said Kornelsen. "I can't imagine my mom seeing someone walk by she's met only twice then pull them into the house and feed them," she laughed.
"They're very welcoming in that way," she said.
The Manswells say paying a kindness forward to the Bajgais isn't particularly Canadian or patriotic, it's just the right thing for them to do. "We feel we need to do something," said Irene.
— Matchmaker looks for families with children of similar ages and genders.
— Every Canadian family is interviewed to get a sense of their dynamics.
— Shy people are matched with outgoing families, and people with limited English are paired with settled families who speak more than one language if possible.
The program, in its fifth year at IRCOM, succeeds because people get along and tell others who want to get involved.
— source: Karen Kornelsen, IRCOM House family-to-family program