Newcomer Volunteers Give Back

From left are Hia Alrajel, Lamis Hijazi and Mona Al Rajeh, the three volunteers who prepared a meal to share with the community at the Nick Nicolle Community Centre on Monday.

Three newcomer women gave back to the community Monday morning by volunteering their time to prepare the same foods they would have made for their families when living in Syria.

Mona Al Rajeh, Hia Alrajel and Lamis Hijazi spent Monday morning, March 12, at the Nick Nicolle Community Centre in Saint John’s old north end. The women prepared a large meal of traditional Syrian foods to serve to children in after-school programs, and to other members of the community.

“When we came to Canada, the Canadian people helped us,” said Lamis. “We want to help them, too.”

Mona was asked by her YMCA settlement counsellor if she was interested in volunteering her time at the Nick Nicolle centre. He made arrangements with the community centre, which provided kitchen space and groceries.

“I love to help all people,” Mona said. “And helping is good for the heart.” Mona was happy to volunteer, and invited her two friends to join her.

The Nick Nicolle Community Centre is operated by One Change Inc., a registered charity which works to improve the quality of life in the old north end. The centre promotes community engagement and participation in activities and decisions that facilitate the well-being of community life, and encourages volunteer involvement at all levels within the organization. By opening its doors to newcomer volunteers, the Nick Nicolle centre provides them with the opportunity to become part of the greater community, and practice English language skills.

Mona, Hia and Lamis are all originally from Syria but came to Canada in early 2016 as government assisted refugees. The three women did not know each other before coming to Canada, and they also only knew the basics of the English language. Through their English language classes at YMCA Newcomer Connections, they have become close friends and can now comfortably speak English without the need of an interpreter.

Help also came from another newcomer volunteer. Youssef Asoueid often travels to Fredericton to purchase pita bread to be shared among the Syrian community. Youssef graciously donated 10 bags of pita for the meal at the Nick Nicolle centre.

“I hope all the people like our Syrian food,” Mona said.

When asked about their motivation for taking the time out of their own lives to volunteer, they smiled – fingers still busily peeling and cutting potatoes.

“First, I love to cook,” said Hia. “Then, I love to help other people.”

“We need to thank every Canadian person because they helped us, and we like Canada,” Lamis added.

“Thank you to all Canadian people,” said Mona.

Monday’s meal is the first time the Syrian women cooked a free meal for the public. They hope it will become an ongoing event by offering their skills monthly to the Nick Nicolle centre.