Donated dictionaries help newcomers feel more at home in Chilliwack

Rotary Club of Chilliwack's donation of dictionaries aids refugee and immigrant literacy

Volunteer interpreter Liliane Habib helps a recent Syrian immigrant family with dictionaries donated by the Rotary Club of Chilliwack at Chilliwack Community Services.

Volunteer interpreter Liliane Habib helps a recent Syrian immigrant family with dictionaries donated by the Rotary Club of Chilliwack at Chilliwack Community Services.

One of the major problems facing many new immigrant and refugee families coming to Canada is their inability to speak or understand English. It is almost certain to be one of the first hurdles they will encounter in their attempts to build a new life in a new country.

This situation and how it might be remedied was part of a discussion at a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Chilliwack’s Literacy Committee. Committee chairman Don Bates suggested that the club provide appropriate dictionaries for immigrant families and all those present, including Literacy Outreach Coordinator for the Chilliwack Learning Society, Debbie Denault, agreed that was an excellent idea.

Bates had been in touch with Michelle Price, Supervisor of Immigrant Services for  Chilliwack Community Services and found out that they used the Monolingual Oxford Picture Dictionary for their basic needs. This same dictionary was available in an English/Arabic version which would be helpful to Syrian families coming to Chilliwack. Price indicated that CCS would appreciate receiving 10 copies of the monolingual Oxford Picture Dictionary and 20 copies of the English/Arabic Oxford Picture Dictionary.

Bates began researching prices for the books and discovered that the best deal available commercially was almost $1,000 for thirty dictionaries. He then decided to directly contact Oxford University Press in Toronto and ask them if they would consider a discount on that price, considering that we would be donating the books for a good cause. They lowered the price by over $100 and included an extra copy of the monolingual dictionary free.

Price said she was grateful for the Oxford Picture Dictionaries that the Rotary Club provided. She pointed out that the dictionaries are helping students and their families to learn to communicate with their neighbours and to make valuable connections in their community. Families will use these dictionaries for several years, and when they no longer need them, they may be donated back for another family to use.  Classroom support volunteers and tutors also use the dictionaries to teach English as well as to communicate with the learners. Price also noted,  “Support for newcomers from the Rotary Club and the whole community has been absolutely heartwarming!” The mission of Chilliwack Community Services is “providing opportunities with people to make positive change in their lives,” she said. She thanked Rotary for its generous gift that has contributed to the achievement of this.

This will be the second literary donation financed within the Chilliwack community by the Rotary Club of Chilliwack in the past year: last summer 825 copies of a children’s book entitled Josh The Baby Otter, a cautionary tale to help young children avoid drowning, were purchased by the club to be distributed free to local families.

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