A helping hand

Tilak Arora helps new students to Canada feel at home and excel at school

By Kate Staatsen

Four years ago, when I was just six years old, my family decided to move to Canada. Well, they really decided three years before that; it takes a long time to get the right stamps in your passport before you can actually move to Canada. There are lots of different reasons why people move to another country. My parents explained that they wanted a less hectic lifestyle, friendlier people, and more space. They said that they really moved for us and not for work. So we moved to Canada to start a new life.

When I lived in Holland, my parents chose to speak English at home (my parents are not from the same country). I spoke Dutch in school and with my friends. I understood English perfectly, although I could not read or write in English that well.

When I first started school in Canada, kids in my class didn’t really know that I had just made a really big move. My teacher also did not notice in the beginning that I was new to Canada because I already spoke English. It was difficult to understand for everyone that I was having a hard time with reading and writing. I also wasn’t used to the new culture that much. 

When I met with Mr. Tilak Arora for the first time at Bedford South School, I was really happy. He was always smiling and he understood from personal experience that moving to a new country is difficult. Mr. Arora really helped me understand how everything works here in Canada. And he helped me make new friends, which I really needed. He was a great help and we met quite often.

At first, I thought that Mr. Arora worked for Bedford South School but he doesn’t. He works for the YMCA. I learned that the YMCA does lots of different things. Its website says that “the YMCA in Canada is dedicated to the growth of all persons in spirit, mind and body, and to their sense of responsibility to each other and the global community.” One of the things that it does is to help people who are new to Canada. So, it also gets people to go to a school and help out international students who are having difficulty with moving and everything.

One of the reasons that Mr. Arora worked at Bedford South is because there are lots of international students there. Mr. Arora says that he helped 142 students last year. Most students are from countries in the Middle East like Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Iran.

When Nada Al Suhaibi moved to Canada from Yemen, she could not speak English at all. The only language she knew was Arabic. She did not understand any of the words people said when she first moved. She also had no friends because she did not really know anyone.

Zaina Awad, who was born in the United Arab Emirates, only knew the language and the alphabet a little bit when she moved here. She also didn’t have any friends. The Canadian traditions were also quite different from what she was used to. Mr. Arora helped both of them, too.

Mrs. Bonin is a Grade 6 teacher at Bedford South School. She loves that she has international students in her classroom. “It brings a richness into my classroom that I did not have at any other schools that I have worked at,” she says. “I think it is a positive thing!”

Mrs. Bonin says that international students are different because when they just came to Canada they experience culture shock. “The difficulties that international students have are language, social aspects and interactions and making friends,” she explains. “The friends that they make in the beginning are the friends that are going to be part of their social bubble.”

When I met with Mrs. Bonin I asked her how she and Mr. Arora help international students. She explained that Mr. Arora helps contact families if they did not bring in something for a class activity because there was a language barrier and even helps have other students translate for them. “Once I had a Korean student in my class and he spoke no English, so Mr. Arora called his parents and explained to them that he was going to get another Korean family to help them out. He even got students in the school to help each other out.”

I asked Mrs. Bonin how international students made it more interesting in her classroom. She said that in Grade 6 you learn about world culture. “What I really like about international students is that they approach things in a different way,” she says. “It could even be a math problem. I like to have an open and welcoming environment for everyone!”

People who move from a different country all need different things. I needed to understand some of the customs here, like singing “O Canada” every morning (which I had to learn, of course!) or having to wear indoor shoes at school. Some kids may need to understand English, how to make friends, or read and write. We all need something different. But we all needed to understand Canadian customs and that is what Mr. Arora helped students with.

I think that the YMCA is a great association because they put people like Mr. Arora in schools to help international students. And Mr. Arora especially is great for international students who need help, because he creates the bridge between students at school. He also highlights the different cultures and how they are all quite different! That is really good because some people, like me, may be shy to express that they have some really neat things about them and their culture.

Mr. Arora is actually not at Bedford South anymore. After I interviewed him, he got a new job at the YMCA helping people all across Nova Scotia, which is awesome because he is really good at his job and he can help even more people.   

Maybe you can help, too? Visit the Centre for Immigrant Programs at ymcahfx.ca.