Omar Ilsley, a retired pilot, started his volunteer assignment as a Settlement mentor with what he thought was a clear idea of his role: to inform, instruct and advise. But after working with a newcomer family he was matched with for over seven years, he learned that what he wanted for the newcomers may be different from what they want for themselves. “I have learned that I need to be able to hear what they have to say and appreciate their own goals and dreams,” Omar explains.
Having worked in construction management in Saudi Arabia and having had experience with “needing lots of help myself” in a foreign country, Omar felt he had much to offer newcomers starting a new life in Canada.
As a Settlement mentor in ISSofBC’s Volunteer and Mentoring Connections program, Omar provided the family he was matched with services listed on the right.
Volunteer services provided
- help with computer and paperwork
- homework support for the school-aged children
- school liaison support
- Friendship and advice
When he entered the volunteer mentoring relationship, Omar thought his role would be “that of a trusted advisor, explaining how things worked in Canada, and providing direction and advice that would lead to (the newcomer family’s) successes.” Omar said he did not foresee “what a long difficult struggle” it would be for his matched family to make a new home in Canada.
Looking back at his volunteering experience as a Settlement mentor, Omar says he enjoyed becoming friends with the family and appreciating them for who they are. “To a limited extent, I was able to see their dreams and aspirations, what they thought was possible, and what they dismissed as being impossible,” he adds.
Omar says he has learned to listen a little more effectively to the newcomer perspective. “The appreciation of their victories, successes, and ability to navigate the stresses and obstacles of this new culture in a way that is meaningful for them, can only be achieved when preconceptions of how they should live their lives in Canada are put aside and I can try to hear their voices,” he explains. He is moved by the fact that the Volunteer Program facilitates life-long relationships, saying, “It’s thrilling to hear about volunteers and newcomers who continue to meet as friends years after they participated in the program.” And Omar welcomes being a Settlement mentor again, saying, “I really like watching newcomers make my home Canada, their home.”
“Sometimes it is more important for a Settlement Mentor to learn how to hear a newcomer, than to explain and advise. We shouldn’t underestimate the effect that a friendship with a newcomer as they arrive in Canada can have on their overall experience of making their home here.”