Providing more than refuge
By the time teacher Kris Hull finished his half-hour presentation at L.A. Matheson Secondary on the work of the district’s Welcome Centre, 600 children in developing and impoverished countries had died.
That was one of the tragic statistics on the first PowerPoint slide he showed them, and it stuck. But it also motivated students in the school’s social justice class to assist some of the thousands of child immigrants and refugees who end up in Canada every year, many fleeing the poverty, hunger and preventable illnesses prevalent in their countries of origin.
“Books are not a big or easily attainable resource for them because they cost a lot of money,” said Grade 12 student Raman Shetta. “We thought what’s more beneficial to give them than books to help enhance their reading, learning and communication skills.”
After Hull’s presentation to Raman’s social justice class at L.A. Matheson, she and fellow students Sarah Perry, Amritpal Bath, and Aleena DeHaas launched a book drive to benefit the Welcome Centre’s Bridge program. They spent several weeks gathering donations of everything from picture books and cookbooks to teen fiction and Dickens classics.
Last Friday, it was like Christmas morning as students in the Bridges program, which assists young immigrants and refugees with significant literacy and education gaps, opened boxes filled with more than 400 books of all shapes and sizes.
They may not have been able to read the titles, but each student couldn’t wait to touch, hold and study the words and images on the pages.
“It was amazing to see them react after we just put the books on the table for them,” said Amritpal. “You could see how much they appreciated it.”
All four girls are avid readers, and so the idea of a book drive was personally appealing. Knowing most of the students could not read English well or at all, they each spent time reading one of the donated books to groups of rapt students during their visit to the Welcome Centre.
“I have an enormous passion for reading, and helping another kid find that same passion is worthwhile to me,” said Aleena.
The L.A. Matheson students credit their teacher Annie Ohana, who sponsors the social justice class, for inspiring them to make the world a better place.
“She brought the program to Matheson and really championed it to the students,” said Sarah.
Added Raman: “She’s gone above and beyond for this class. She’s amazing and I don’t know how she does it.”
Students collected between 20 and 25 boxes of books. Works that didn’t go to the Welcome Centre will be distributed to other under-resourced programs in Surrey, including low-income daycare centres.
The English Language Learner Welcome Centre assists English Language Learner (ELL) students and their families with their integration into the Surrey School District and the community. The Welcome Centre’s Bridge program is for students between 15 and 19 who face literacy, education, social and communication barriers due to language and cultural differences or mental and emotional issues as a result of traumatic experiences.
Students come from all around the world, including Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Ukraine, China and Greece.