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National Volunteer Week: Barbara Campbell

After moving around the world for four decades as an ESL teacher and wife of a Canadian diplomat, Barbara Campbell knows how difficult it can be for women to in a foreign country to find time for themselves.

“I know for myself, moving every three or four years, you think of your children first, then your husband, and you think of yourself last – maybe after a year or so,” she says.

That’s why she knew a volunteer opportunity as a leader of an English Conversation Circle for Women was the right place for her.

Barbara is one of the 453 library volunteers who donated 10,585 hours of their time in 2016.

“You see a lot of happiness, you see budding friendships.”

The English Conversation Circle for Women at Central Library was originally created to help Syrian women who came to Waterloo Region in 2016, and includes child-minding services so that mothers can bring their children.

It’s now quite a large group that meets every week, and includes women from lots of different backgrounds, including some who have moved here while their spouses attend school. Some of the women have been here for 14 years, some arrived just a few months ago.

“It’s a large group, with language levels all over,” Barbara says. “You see a lot of happiness, you see budding friendships. People are free to voice their frustrations. They have time to think of themselves and they realize how lonely they are.”

Barbara, who is one of two group leaders who works with three volunteer assistants, says she likes to present a newsworthy or culturally relevant topic, then give the women vocabulary words and common idioms. Recently, they’ve discussed the arrival of spring, maple syrup, Easter, bullying, and the pros and cons of backyard chickens.

Barbara also likes to help the women practise pronunciation, because the English language is driven by emphasis on certain syllables, unlike Japanese or French, for instance. Frustrated by being misunderstood, the women have steadily improved with two or three sessions of learning how to stress syllables.

“I saw a lot of eyes brightening,” she says.

But perhaps more importantly, this is a place where women can connect with others in the community in a friendly, social environment.

“Many of the women have children in school and this is their first opportunity to get out. They call it ‘my time,’ and it’s fun to see,” Barbara says.

We’d like to thank Barbara and the other 452 library volunteers who use their experiences and skills to make our community a stronger place!

Learn more about ESL resources at Kitchener Public Library

Find out about volunteer opportunities

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Polar vortex holiday party

During an onslaught of snow, wind, and chilly temperatures last week, a group of our amazing volunteers held a warm and cosy holiday party at Central Library for the participants in English Conversation Circles.

English Conversation Circles are a great way for newcomers in the community to practise English in a relaxed, supportive, and informal setting. These groups are run with the support of YMCA Immigrant Services and our incredible volunteers, many of whom are teachers or retired teachers.

Volunteers at Central Library planned a party complete with snacks and drinks, crafts, and gifts for the children – a lovely opportunity to talk about and share holiday traditions from different cultures.

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