Story from Vancouver Community College’s Community Report

When Zahra Jalali immigrated to Canada 10 years ago, she already had a degree in English translation from her home country of Iran. She soon realized, however, that knowing and using a language were very different things, and enrolled in English as an Additional Language (EAL) courses at Vancouver Community College (VCC).

Now 57, Zahra continues to study English at an advanced level. After recently sending her son to university, she was also ready for a new challenge. When a coordinator from the nearby Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (MPNH) visited her VCC classroom one day, Zahra learned of the opportunity to work as a language tutor for newcomers and signed up right away.

It was also her first time working outside the home. “I got married when I was 15 and my husband always took care of me,” she says. “Now I want to do something to help people.”

While it’s common for immigrants to Canada to enrol in EAL classes, many women with young children do not have this luxury. “These women are young and keen and they want to integrate but they have so many demands – in some cases, four or five children. There are transportation issues and poverty issues,” says MNPH family literacy coordinator Morie Ford.

To better serve this population, in 2015, MPNH and VCC partnered to form the Family Literacy Outreach Program (FLO). Through this program, volunteer tutors receive training to visit the homes of newcomer families and teach fun and customized English lessons to both adults and children in the same environment.

FLO tutors use borrowing cards from the VCC Library, have access to VCC’s teaching resources, and are trained to connect families with other community and employment services.

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