Meet one of Surrey's 'champion' volunteers
Hemanshu Hora immigrated to Canada from India with the hope of pursuing a better life and education for his children – an 11-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son – but adjusting to life in a foreign country wasn’t easy.
“It was totally different. People are much more friendly, much more polite,” says Hora with a smile. “But we had to learn a lot of new things. It was kind of tough for my kids, my wife and myself also.”
Hora went from being a production engineer with a construction manufacturing business back home to applying for entry-level jobs once he moved to Surrey.
“That was the hardest thing to do,” says Hora. “I never had to work for anyone back home.”
Through the Skills Connect Program for Immigrants, Hora learned about the Library Champions Program.
The program – created in partnership between NewToBC and 10 different public libraries across Metro Vancouver – encourages recent immigrants to volunteer to become “library champions” by getting involved in their communities with the help of their local library.
The program involves 10 hours of training for things such as presentation skills, outreach work, intercultural communication skills and learning about the library.
Project coordinator Jody Johnson says that many participants say the project has given them a sense of belonging in Canada they didn’t have before.
“When they first came, they felt like they were the ones who were always receiving services and receiving information, and by being people who can give information about something, they feel that they’re contributing back,” Johnson says.
Once they’ve received their training, the library champions go forth into their various communities and network with others by encouraging them to check out the many resources – such as career and employment programs– available to them at the library.
“I’m an outgoing person. I like to meet people; I like to talk to them,” says Hora, who volunteers at the City Centre branch of Surrey Libraries. “Back in India, I used to go to the library a lot. Over here as soon as I came, within a month or two I got my whole family involved in the library.”
The program was started about a year ago after a Surrey focus group agreed they would like to share the resources available in the libraries with newcomers to the country.
Hora says he loves living in Canada and credits the program with helping him through that transition.
“My life has totally changed. I got much more motivated. After doing this program, I can face anything and talk to anyone. I have many friends over here. My wife has even more friends than me,” he says, laughing.
In about a year’s time, the program has produced about 400 champions, who Johnson says have exceeded all expectations and taken innovative approaches to their community outreach work.
“They’ve gone to their churches, where the church leader has told the whole congregation about the champions and the libraries for newcomers,” she says. “They’ve started using social media channels, so they’ve got their own Facebook pages; they’ve connected with ethnic media and had articles and ads put on at their own volition; they’ve spoken at English language classes and daycares. The list is quite extraordinary.”
Hora is currently working at Home Depot while taking a mortgage broker course and hopes to start a lumber business. But he still considers the library his second home.
“There is something for everyone in the library.”
For more information about the Library Champions Program, visit NewToBC.ca