Volunteer Tutor Fosters Independence in Newcomers

Guy Daigle

Guy Daigle, who volunteers with YMCA Newcomer Connections as an Independent Literacy Tutor.

To be able to go to a doctor’s office and understand what is being said, to be able to ask for help on your own at a service counter — these seem like mundane moments in everyday life but they’re some of the successes Guy Daigle hopes to achieve in his work as a volunteer tutor for YMCA Newcomer Connections.

“In terms of global citizenship, we owe it to them,” Guy said. “There are advantages that happen in Canada that don’t happen elsewhere. I think it’s important that we try to share the advantages we have and bring someone along with us.”

Guy is a native of Saint John and has lived in the area most of his life. While he holds a degree in economics, he’s also taken courses in geography, science and education.

Guy’s interest in different cultures, and the recent influx of refugees into Canada, motivated him to get involved with working with newcomers, so he approached the YMCA. At the time, there was a need for tutors to help students who are learning English and having some trouble. Based on his education and experience, Guy was the perfect fit.

Over the years Guy has done some work as a supply teacher, working with a wide range of ages from Kindergarten to Grade 12. He said that teaching an adult isn’t much different than the children he sees at school — he uses his sense of humour in each situation, finding a balance between the language and maturity levels of his students.

The first newcomer Guy worked with successfully progressed in his language classes thanks to tutoring, and Guy has now been paired with a second newcomer.

Like any job, tutoring a newcomer has its challenges. The biggest is the language barrier, but Guy says they’re often just misunderstandings and it’s part of working to improve literacy.

Daylight Savings in March is one example that caused some confusion around a planned meeting time for a tutoring session. Trying to explain over the phone why time changed was difficult, but Guy said it’s often lost on most people who have lived here their whole lives.

Successes are also part of working closely with a newcomer. Guy currently works with a man who shares his interest in geography and maps. They’re able to find common ground on this topic, and it has helped them bond and form a friendship.

“We have our laughs,” he said.

By using a map of New Brunswick, Guy has been able to point out some of his favourite places in the province in relation to Saint John. This helps to teach his student of surroundings.

“We’ve talked about sometime this summer, when the water is warmer, we’d drive out — my wife and I and his family,” Guy said. “We’ll drive out to New River Beach or Fundy Trail and check it out.”

To find success with his current student, Guy wants to help him become more independent.

“He tends to speak in one-word sentences,” Guy explained. “I’m working with him now to try to string together enough words to make a completed sentence.” Guy hopes to one day see his student initiate conversation in English without being prompted, and to understand what is being said to him.

“If I’m in a position to help him, so be it. I don’t want to be part of the problem; I want to be part of the solution.”

Guy isn’t able to accompany his newcomer friend on doctor visits, or fill out tax forms for him but giving him the language skills he needs will help set him on the path toward independency.

The relationship between tutor and student has been about more than just learning English. Guy has helped his newcomer friend figure out where he belongs as a new resident of Canada, and has taught him a bit about Canadian history.

Guy’s newcomer student is originally from Somalia, so his family and his background has always been Somalian. By drawing a timeline, Guy has explained the various waves of immigration that have made Canada what it is today.

Before Guy’s ancestors arrived in Canada, aboriginal peoples lived here for thousands of years before them. Guy made marks on the timeline for each wave of newcomers over the past few hundred years, people who might have come as refugees or to seek a better life. He drew lines for the French, Irish and Ukrainians, and Kosovo refugees as recently as the 1990s; finally, Guy made a mark for 2013 — the year his student came to Canada.

“It helps put it in his mind that, OK … he’s from Somalia, his kids are from Somalia, but their kids will be Canadian born,” Guy explained. “That’s part of the Canadian story.”