Literacy programs life-changing for immigrant new mother

Tetiana Shvets, a 28-year-old from Cherkasy, Ukraine, arrived in Vancouver with her husband in April 2023. She was in a new country, learning a new language and expecting her first child.

“It was so hard! Everything is new and your family is far away,” she said. “The hardest was to find a new house. Without English it’s very difficult. And then I was scared because I was pregnant and will need to go to the hospital – medical English is even harder!”

Now the mother of four-month-old Solomiya, Tetiana is grateful for community literacy programs that helped her improve her English skills, inspired her to take in prenatal classes and helped her to connect with other new mothers and her community.

When she first arrived, she took English classes at MOSAIC settlement and employment services for newcomers. These first steps helped her to feel more confident about joining a mothers’ group during her pregnancy.

“I’m so glad to know English so I could learn information about how to carry a baby and also to meet other moms.”

Family Literacy Outreach program helps newcomers

Then she joined the Family Literacy Outreach program at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (MPNH) in Vancouver.

“I want to speak English well, because my baby will go to childcare and school, so it’s important for me to be able to communicate because it’s important for my baby. And I want to read books.”

Morie Ford, Family Literacy Coordinator at MPNH said, “Family Literacy Outreach serves newcomer families with young children who have recently arrived in Vancouver, many of whom are refugees. These families often encounter challenges accessing educational resources and programs due to poverty, childcare responsibilities, health issues or social isolation. Our program is highly recommended by service providers with funding from the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills.”

Online volunteer tutors help learners reach their real life goals

Newcomers can also get help with English and other literacy skills with trained tutors they meet online once a week.

“It works for mothers because they don’t need to travel on the bus with their babies, and/or children, or prepare their homes, to have someone visit,” said Morie. “The tutors love the virtual aspect, because they too can connect from the comfort of their home. The program not only assists caregivers in learning English by providing them with a volunteer tutor, but also helps them integrate into their community.”

“Morie and my tutor Tasha really want to help me and they find information that I’m interested in and that is helpful to me,” Tetiana said. “One day we learned about shopping – that was really useful. Now I can go shopping with no worries. I can ask what I want and people understand.”

Literacy programs opens doors

With the help of her tutor, Tetiana also discovered the Vancouver Public Library and appreciates all it has to offer.

“I love the library. It’s free and has lots of good events – conversation classes and baby time.”

She likes mysteries and romance books and VPL introduced her to easy-read books for people English learners. “They help me learn new words and they give descriptions of the words.”

Her growing English skills and connection to MPNH opens opportunities to participate in family programs offered at any of the Vancouver neighbourhood houses, like Play with Me, Sing and Grow or Tech Café for technology assistance.

“The beauty of community programming is that organizations can tailor programs to meet their local needs,” Decoda Program Manager Maureen Kehler said. “Stories like Tetiana’s show the ripple effect that literacy programs can have on health, connecting to resources, continued education and community.”

“Life is very different now,” Tetiana said. “I’m very thankful that Canada helped the Ukrainian people. I’m happy that I’m in a safe place with my family and have met good people. This country cares about people. And I’m very thankful to Morie, my volunteer tutor Tasha, and the Family Literacy Outreach program.”

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing funding, guidance, trainingresources, a library, a weekly blog, the Fostering Literacy reading tutor programParents As Literacy Supporters programs and The Westcoast Reader newspaper for learners.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

In the 2022-23 program period it supported 400 communities, resulting in 44,164 adults improving their literacy skills and 56, 761 youth and children engaged in community-based programs.

You can help support literacy in BC with a gift to the Decoda Literacy Foundation.

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