Rural newcomers to get helping hand from multicultural association

·2 min read

The Multicultural Association of Perth Huron is expanding into rural areas, opening satellite offices in Goderich, Grand Bend and Exeter to better support newcomers amid the pandemic.

“It’s a very difficult time for newcomers in rural areas,” association founder Gezaghn Wordofa said. “There is no transportation, there is not enough housing . . . Our organization, we’re just jumping in to cover isolation, mental illness, people who are struggling in rural areas.”

The association is providing supplies like personal protective equipment, masks, food and even furniture to newcomers.

Board member Steve Landers said the satellite offices will help reduce the distance newcomers have to travel to find support and aid those without vehicles or transportation.

Volunteers with the association are also helping address vaccine hesitancy among rural newcomers, explaining the role of COVID-19 vaccines in native languages, and assisting with booking appointments and transportation to the vaccination clinics.

The association offers translation services in 30 languages.

The satellite offices are also aiming to help address the social isolation many newcomers are feeling during the pandemic.

The effects of lockdowns can be more acutely felt by immigrants new to the area, who haven’t yet established roots or face language barriers connecting with neighbours, Wordofa said.

Amid the current lockdown, the new Goderich office, which will typically be open three days a week, has shifted outdoors to the Main Square — assisting newcomers from a distance and with masks required, he said.

Sometimes a simple conversation is enough to boost spirits, Wordofa said

“It is very important to see your own people."

When lockdowns lift and social gatherings become safe again, he said, the new offices can be a hub to help newcomers connect with each other in different communities.

Future pop-up office sites in towns such as Wingham, Tavistock and Listowel are being considered, as Wordofa said the association’s reach has expanded beyond Huron and Perth counties and into parts of Oxford, Bruce, Wellington and Middlesex counties.

Although big cities are typically looked at as the landing place for new immigrants, metropolises like Toronto are becoming increasingly less affordable for newcomers.

Certain immigration systems, like sponsorships, can also dictate where a newcomer will land.

It's essential small towns and rural areas attract and retain newcomers as they can help fill much-needed jobs and create more diverse communities, but robust, accessible support services are needed to help newcomers, Wordofa said.

“We have to understand how it is very important to keep newcomers in the region."

Assistance from the Multicultural Association of Huron Perth, along with times and locations of satellite offices, can be accessed at 1-888-910-1583.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press