How can a chat about springtime on the Prairies strengthen a newcomer to Canada? When folks come together through the Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS), they make friends and improve their English.
Volunteer Carole Spencer had to leave her comfort zone to participate in the Conversation Circles program offered by SODS. “Last March when the Relief Society general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked [the women of the Church] to do something for refugees, I felt that I needed to respond,” says Spencer.
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Conversation Circles, an interactive service for new arrivals to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, began 10 years ago. According to co-ordinator Taya Raine, the program provides a safe and welcoming environment for individuals who want to improve their English but may not have access to formal English classes due to wait lists or family obligations.
“Perhaps more importantly,” explains Raine, “the Circles program also offers an important opportunity for both volunteers and newcomers to get to know each other. People from different corners of the globe can sit and talk, laugh and share stories. In this day and age, anything that bridges gaps between race and religion and that aids in respect and appreciation for our brothers and sisters from around the world is a positive thing for the entire community.”
Spencer admits it was difficult at first to venture out on her own rather than with a group of women from the Church, but she finally contacted SODS and got involved with Conversation Circles. “I go to the library every Thursday,” she says, “and sit and talk to newcomers from all over the world. The people are so appreciative of this small service. I feel so blessed.”
Monali Patel is a 19-year-old newcomer from Gandhinagar, India, who regularly attends the Conversation Circles program. She lives with her family, who does not speak English. Patel hopes to pass English exams in preparation for university. She says, “I like Canada. I am becoming confident speaking English. Teachers [conversation buddies] improve our sentences.”
Michael J. Teh, a member of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says: “We have a responsibility to care for and serve our brothers and sisters. In relating the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus Christ … taught a great lesson to all who sought to follow Him. We need to enlarge the circle of our influence. Our service to others should be independent of race, color, standing or relationships. … Much of the service needed in the world today relates to our day-to-day associations with each other” (“Out of Small Things,” November 2007 general conference).