Serendipity is defined as an event where a person finds something pleasant or valuable that they were not looking for. Is it luck? Fate? Call it what you might, it happens. It could be an unexpected call or text from someone dear, finding a object that brings back memories or a coin on the floor in your daily commute. Serendipity is waking up to the first snowfall, a present waiting for you on your desk at work or a friend with an extra ticket for a show you wanted to go to.
For Arwa, serendipity happened when she walked into the Toronto Reference Library at Bloor and Yonge. This was in 2017, only year after she arrived with her three kids from Syria. In her visit to the library she found a group of people talking about Canada. As she got closer, she could hear the different accents from members of the group, it felt right, like she belonged there. The group leader approached her and invited her to join.
The group was one of CultureLink’s Citizenship Education Circles, which before COVID used to meet in libraries across the city. The Discovery Canada book that prospect citizens are expected to study from is very hard to read for someone who’s first language is not English. The program prepares newcomers for the Citizenship test by going over the book and explaining all the important names and events. These details are easy to remember from stories, jokes, quizzes and a lot of conversation facilitated by our staff and volunteers. In Arwas’s words: “Its like sitting with friends. They made me feel that is normal to have difficulty reading in English, and corrected my pronunciation”.
In 2021 Arwa was finally eligible and ready to submit her Citizenship application. It took a few months, but the invitation to take the test arrived and she sat down to take it in March 2022. “It was easy! I finished in under 10 minutes” she said. She passed it a with 18/20, and it would have been a perfect score had she not forgotten to unmark two questions she had selected for review. She knew all the answers, and credits the preparation and support she received for that.
Arwa is now a Citizenship Education Circle graduate and her only regret is not having found that group earlier. Not only did it help her pass the test, she also improved her reading (from level 3 to level 8) and made friends in the other newcomer participants, the volunteers and our staff. But her relationship with CultureLink doesn’t end there. During the pandemic, her children were struggling with homework and she turned to us for help. One of our settlement workers referred her to a tutoring service and now a employment counsellor is helping her with her resume.
A newcomer family is well on their way to a happy new Canadian life, all because Arwa happened to walk into the library on a day when one our groups was having a session. How different would her story be if she hadn’t?