Montreal

Park Ex residents are reaching beyond language barriers to help neighbours navigate the system

For the new residents in Park Ex, who are still learning French and navigating their way through the Quebec system, BIPE is a haven where they know they can find information on issues including housing, jobs and schools — in whichever language they speak.

BIPE is a living directory to help newcomers find what they need

Meryem Ouadban, Qurat Ul-Ain, Shahista Hussein and Anastasia Georgiou are just a few of the women behind BIPE. The reference service will be officially inaugurated in June. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Anastasia Georgiou sits at a table at the back of the Parc-Extension library, helping a man fill out paperwork needed to sell his car.

It's a familiar situation at the Bureau d'Information Parc-Extension (BIPE), a new multilingual resource that connects residents of the neighbourhood to services available to them.

"Almost every day, we have to help clients fill out forms, even call and make appointments for them," says Georgiou, a longtime Park Ex resident and a counsellor at BIPE.

For newcomers in Park Ex, who are still learning French and navigating their way through the Quebec system, it's also a haven where they know they can get information on issues including housing, jobs and schools — in whichever language they speak.

These days, Georgiou says, many of the questions are about access to legal aid, health care or the immigration process.

BIPE counsellor and second-generation Greek immigrant Anastasia Georgiou says this service would have been a godsend to her parents when they first arrived in Montreal (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

The women at BIPE speak several languages, which comes in handy as they work with their neighbours in need of help.

Georgiou, who speaks Greek and Spanish on top of English and French, says she's even picked up bits and pieces of new languages through her work — like teeka, which means vaccine in Punjabi.

Building trust

"There are a lot of community organizations in Parc-Extension, but a lot of people don't know about these resources," says Qurat Ul-Ain, administrative assistant at the Park Extension Roundtable, which founded BIPE.

BIPE started as a directory, but became an in-person, multilingual service after the group went door-to-door last year in an effort to spread information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Qurat Ul-Ain, the administrative assistant for the Park Ex Roundtable, says it's essential to build a sense of trust and security with clients. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

"When you spoke in the same language, people automatically opened up. They were more willing to share their problems. They were willing to get information," she said.

That's why it's vital that the counsellors working at BIPE are able to speak with residents in a language that they are comfortable with, says Ul-Ain.

Shahista Hussein, a counsellor at BIPE, speaks seven languages — Swahili, Kutchi, English, Gujarati, Sindhi, Bengali and Punjabi.

And she's now learning sign language, too.

BIPE counsellor Shahista Hussein speaks seven languages, though she says she uses Punjabi most frequently while working. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Hussein says this kind of service was needed for years.

"Before, it was not official. I was doing it on my own," she says. "Now at least I have a place where I am working."

Meryem Ouadban, who has lived in the neighbourhood since 2010, says her own experience as a new immigrant helps her understand the challenges clients are facing.

Meryem Ouadban, a counsellor at BIPE, has lived in the neighbourhood for over a decade. She says working at BIPE is a way to care for her community. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

"I've been through a lot of things as an immigrant and I know the needs that immigrants have. So I'm really passionate about helping other people like me overcome their problems," she said.

Ouadban says people should keep an eye out for what comes next with BIPE.

"We're still in the beginning and we still have a lot of ideas to try to bring more help to people in the neighbourhood," she said.

We head to the Park Extension Library on St-Roch with CBC's Jennifer Yoon, where a group of women are helping immigrants, newcomers and other residents access services they need. The group is called Bureau d'Information Parc Extension, or BIPE.

The official inauguration of BIPE will be held on June 16, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in front of the William Hingston Centre.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Yoon

Journalist

Jennifer Yoon is a journalist at CBC Montreal.

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