Halifax Heroes: Helping newcomers to Canada ‘about being a good neighbour and friend’

When Lori Ward began volunteering with ISANS, she couldn’t have predicted her role would put her front and centre for a baby delivery.

The Halifax resident began working with the organization’s Community Connections Program about two years ago. The program matches a family of new Canadians with a volunteer who helps them integrate into the community.

“(Lori) has provided support and information about living in Canada, practiced conversational English and engaged them (the family) in several community activities,” said ISANS volunteer program coordinator Denise Scott.

“Lori has brought has been a fantastic support to the family in welcoming them to Canada.”

Ward was placed with a family originally from Sudan. They’re now counted among her good friends, which is why she doesn’t consider what she does volunteering and was reluctant to be dubbed a Halifax Hero.

“Often people (immigrants/refugees) have left everyone. And it can be a very cold and difficult place if you don’t have somebody here as support, and not somebody that’s required to be your support but somebody that wants to be your support,” Ward said.

“It’s a much different experience from sitting in a waiting room waiting for a service to just phoning somebody up and saying ‘What does this mean?’”

Ward meets with the family of five on average once a week, sometimes more often. They often join her, her partner, her step-children and her friends.

She has introduced them to trick or treating, skating, apple picking, beaches, Christmas dinner and a variety of other activities.

But the moment that sticks in her mind occurred on Oct. 20, 2015.

Ward had arrived at the family’s home with Halloween costumes for the two children. It was going to be their first time trick or treating, and they were excited. Their mother, who was nine months pregnant at the time, was experiencing a lot of discomfort.

“She is quite a stoic lady and at one point I said to her husband ‘I think maybe we should phone Fatima (their neighbour) and we might want to get her to the hospital because I think the baby is coming now,’” Ward recalled.

While Ward came back from bringing her car up to the door, the neighbour had arrived and so had the baby.

“Fatima and I were on 911 and the two of us were talking and they (911 dispatch) were saying ‘Ok, you have to clamp the umbilical cord,’ and we looked at each other and we were like ‘With what?’” she recalled.

“At one point I was literally clamping the umbilical cord with my fingers as we scrambled to find something to tie the umbilical cord off, which ended up being yo-yo string. It was remarkably calm. Her other two children had both been born in refugee camps, so the living room wasn’t crazy.”

Ward joked that being a farm girl meant the experience was unique but not completely out of her realm.

“I had phoned ISANS afterwards and said we can rack this one up to extreme volunteerism,” she joked.

Ward is employed in the non-profit sector and does a fair bit of event volunteering beyond her work day. She expects the family to continue to be part of her life.

“I think as the children get older they will have different needs. I have visions of schlepping kids to soccer games at some point in the not too distant future,” she joked.

“People are always going to say that they have no time, but you have time to be a good neighbour. You have time to be a good friend.”