For many older adults, chatting with a grocery store clerk is a great way to make a friendly connection. Winnipegger Atiqullah is excited to enjoy this type of simple, yet meaningful, conversation—now that he’s learning how to speak English.
“A new language, English, is good for me,” said Atiqullah. “I need English. I love English.”
Atiqullah, 70, was a pharmacist in his home country of Afghanistan before moving to Canada in 2015. The father of six became a permanent resident in 2018, and he and his wife Marzia joined the Senior Immigrant Settlement Services Program (SISS) at A & O: Support Services for Older Adults that same year.
“Social isolation and loneliness are global issues for seniors—especially for our senior immigrants and refugee seniors.”
Not knowing how to speak the language of his new home city has made it difficult for Atiqullah to find work, talk to people while shopping, or even ask questions at medical appointments.
“I need English because (when) I go to my doctor, I can’t speak with my doctor,” he said.
Older immigrants come to Winnipeg “from countries all over the world to build new lives in Canada” with a host of needs unique to their age and life experience, said SISS Program Coordinator Lorena Martinez.
Through SISS, newcomers aged 55-plus can attend settlement orientation twice a week to learn about local laws and culture, health and safety, housing, money and banking, transportation, and other important community information.
SISS also hosts formal English classes three times weekly, like those Atiqullah and Marzia have been taking, as well as English conversational gatherings—a more relaxed opportunity to practice a new language, as well as meet people with similar journeys and make friends.
“Social isolation and loneliness are global issues for seniors—especially for our senior immigrants and refugee seniors,” Martinez said. “They may face cultural differences, language barriers, decreased income or socio-economic status, and other factors that make social isolation and loneliness even more challenging.
“The SISS Program helps reduce those barriers for them.”
Last year, 170 participants took part in the SISS program at A & O, funded by United Way Winnipeg donors. Martinez expects the same number of people to sign up for classes throughout 2023.
“With the SISS program, they feel less alone.”
Martinez loves to hear positive responses from her participants, as they flourish with their new language and strengthen roots in their new home city at the same time.
“They told us that with the SISS Program, they feel less alone,” said Martinez. “The programs give them a sense of community and provide them with useful information and resources.”
While Atiqullah is still working on improving his English, he is happy about how far he’s come—including being able to find the kind words to share his gratitude.
“I want to thank all the immigrant settlement services staff. They help with seniors,” he said. “All seniors enjoy their English class. We are thankful for Lorena and our teachers, who always pay attention to our problems and help us.”