Expo aims to help newcomers feel at home in St. John's

On Thursday, the St. John's Farmers' Market transformed into the My St. John’s Live Expo, an event hosted by the St. John’s Immigration Partnership to showcase resources available to newcomers.

My New St. John's Live Expo showcased resources, programs available for newcomers

Ana Pitol, left, and Humberto Piccoli, right, recently moved to St. John's from Curitiba, Brazil. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

The St. John's Farmers' Market was bustling on Thursday, but the usual crafts, produce and other goods were largely absent.

Instead, the market transformed into the My St. John's Live Expo, an event hosted by the St. John's Immigration Partnership to showcase the resources available to newcomers.

For newcomers such as Humberto Piccoli and Ana Pitol, who recently travelled to St. John's from Curitiba, Brazil, gaining access to resources on topics from recycling to volunteering is an important part of settling down.

"We're looking for some support, actually, from every kind of perspective," Piccoli said in an interview with CBC News. "We're looking for a job; we're looking for information about how to live here."

Piccoli is in the middle of a graduate program at Memorial University. He said he completed the first year of his program online, and moved to St. John's a month ago.

He said travelling from Brazil to Newfoundland and Labrador was difficult, especially for his wife, who's pregnant, but so far they are enjoying their time in the province.

"Adaptation in the beginning was a little bit hard," he said. "Every day is like a better day and we're feeling like really, really well received here."

Getting connected

The expo included practical resources and programs for newcomers.

The Multicultural Women's Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador is a women-led organization serving immigrant, newcomer and visible minority women. 

The organization provides health and wellness resources, economic education, social connections and more, said executive director Kaberi Sarma-Debnath.

Representatives of the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador, including program and system specialist Mary Oyeneyin, middle, and executive director Kaberi Sarma-Debnath, right. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Program and system specialist Mary Oyeneyin said she wanted to spread the word about the resources available for women through the organization.

"Whether it's with connecting with people, trying to improve their English skills or just trying to connect with other individuals in their community, I just want them to know that they have support here," she said.

A booth from Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries showcased the resources available through the provincial library system — which go way beyond books, said regional librarian Emma Craig. 

In addition to multilingual collections for children and adults, the library offers community programming for newcomers, technology services and information on a variety of topics — such as how to obtain a vaccine passport, for instance.

The Public Legal Information Association of Newfoundland and Labrador provided information about its work helping newcomers navigate the province's legal system.

"When you are new to Canada and new to Newfoundland … it might mean that you're not aware of some of the laws that we have and what your legal rights are," said legal support navigator Ashley MacDonald. 

The organization has information for survivors of sexual assault, renters, and more.

Addressing barriers

The expo also included organizations Social Justice Co-op N.L. and the Anti-Racism Coalition, as well as researchers exploring the barriers faced by newcomers.

One project, from the Memorial University department of geography, focuses on the housing experiences of immigrants, refugees and temporary residents in the province during the pandemic.

Siyi Zhou, left, and Julia Christensen, right, of the Memorial University department of geography, are working on a project about the housing experiences of immigrants, refugees and temporary residents in the province during the pandemic. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

"It's an area that we read a lot about in the media...but we don't actually have a lot of data to share with organizations who work in welcoming newcomers to the province," said MUN professor Julia Christensen. 

Graduate student Siyi Zhou said she's encountered casual racism while looking for housing in the province as an international student.

She said students with English names often get more responses when they're looking for housing. Additionally, international students are often placed in overcrowded living situations.

"One of the biggest issues for the newcomers here is to access decent housing," she said.

Lloydetta Quiaco, the founder and CEO of Sharing Our Cultures, an organization that helps remove cultural and economic barriers for youth from diverse cultural backgrounds, said young newcomers often feel disconnected when they arrive in their new home. The organization aims to help them form social connections, overcome language barriers and develop employable skills.

Lloydetta Quiaco, founder and CEO of Sharing Our Cultures, says young newcomers often feel disconnected when they arrive in their new home. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

"This is a place where they can come and have a sense of place and a sense of belonging," she said.

Quaico said the expo was a great way for newcomers to learn about a multitude of resources at once.

"I think what happens when newcomers come, they don't always have the opportunity to know what's where and who is doing what. So I think this is a great idea."

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