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Multicultural event helps newcomers connect with fellow immigrants here

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Trying to break into a new community can be tough, especially when you're from another country.

To help those who recently immigrated here get better connected to other immigrants, the Valley Adult Learning Association held a “Newcomers Meet-and-Greet” on Nov. 30 at the Super 8.

“Last January we got quite an influx of newcomers to Canada,” noted VALA employee Tracey Ormerod.

“We ran an English class and realized that there's more and more of a demand for an event like this.”

The meet-and-greet saw 16 families come out for a total of 45 attendees, making it a great success, Ormerod lauded.

“We didn't think it was going to be as big of an event as it was," she enthused. ”Everyone brought a dish from their home country and it went really well.

“I think food always brings people together,” she smiled.

Everything from spicy Indian chicken to mung bean porridge and British potato pie was brought.

Newcomers from Mexico, Central and South Africa, China, Brazil, Serbia, Egypt, England, Germany, and many other parts of the world made up the event.

It was great for letting newcomers network and establish new friendships with others who immigrated here recently.

“Everybody just mingled," Ormerod said. ”The conversations were flowing and everyone moved around to everybody else.

"It couldn't have gone better.

Indian newcomer Santhosh Boopadhr came to Canada back in March for a job at the OSB mill in Barwick and was able to connect with fellow immigrants.

“Two people here are from India, as well, and we [had] never met them until today,” he remarked.

Boopadhr feels very welcomed into the town and is glad he came to a tightly-knit community like Fort Frances.

“When much of the immigrants are coming to Canada, they are afraid to come to small towns," he noted. ”They want to go stay in the GTA or Vancouver or Calgary.

“But I would say that it's good to come to a small town where you can meet people and get closer to the community,” he remarkd.

“If I went to Toronto, I'd be friends with maybe 10 Indians and some colleagues, that's it.”

Having a sense of community and feeling connected to the place in which Boopadhr lives is important to him.

“You want to get to know people and try to settle down so you can make a life here,” he reasoned.

While some immigrants at the “meet-and-greet” arrived here for work or school, others came to Canada to seek refuge.

“My country had lots of problems with war and battle all the time," said Rami Canoon, who immigrated here from Iraq last December through the local "Families for Families” campaign although he and his family have since left Fort Frances to live in southern Ontario.

“ISIS has stolen my city and we had to run away because we were not feeling safe,” he remarked.

“We decided to come to Canada because it is a good country for Christian people.”

Canoon was glad to socialize with other newcomers at the party and feels very fortunate to be living in Canada.

“I'm happy and I'm excited for my kids," he enthused. "That's number-one for me.”

Ormerod and Barb Duguay of VALA, who hosted the event, were glad to provide an opportunity where newcomers could connect.

“When you do immigrate, it becomes quite a lonely trip because you quite often leave your family and friends behind,” noted Ormerod, who immigrated here from the United Kingdom in 2010.

“You're starting all over again," she remarked. "There's lots of other people who have relatives here in Canada but that's not often the privilege.”

To help the newcomers who attended the party stay connected, Ormerod has created a Facebook page specific to Fort Frances' immigrants.

Moving forward, VALA plans to host a similar event in February 2019.

“It's going to be something that's happening three times a year,” Ormerod explained.

“The first one was really good and everyone is quite looking forward to the next one.”

VALA, located at 241 C Second St. E. (old high school), offers a variety of programs for immigrants and Ormerod encourages newcomers to visit www.vala.ca to learn more.

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