More than 100 newcomers to Canada are hoping to find people willing to talk to them.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre runs a program in which local newcomers are fixed up with volunteer conversation partners to help them work on their English skills.
“Many of these people are taking other English classes, but this kind of supplements (those),” says Gina Almeida, a settlement worker who co-ordinates the conversation program.
Almeida says volunteers and newcomers typically meet up once a week, for an hour or two, in a public space like a library or a coffee shop.
Conversations generally focus on what volunteer Beth Chapman calls “life situations” – families, the weather, and what’s going on in the life of each participant.
While the program is meant to help newcomers get better at English, Almeida says volunteers typically pick up new knowledge as well.
“There’s an exchange of culture, there’s an exchange of languages, so it’s really beneficial for both parties,” she says.
Right now, there are about 100 people on a waiting list for the conversation partner program – many of them men.
“We usually focus on pairing men with men and women with women … and unfortunately we don’t have as many (male) volunteers as we do female volunteers,” Almeida says.
Some people spend several months on the waiting list before they are matched with a partner.
Volunteers in the program are typically asked to make a six-month commitment to their conversation partner. They must undergo a criminal background check before being accepted.
With reporting by Stu Gooden