Zoreen Abu Aboud had a tough time building a new life in Canada with her family.
In her home country of Jordan, she was a pharmacist and her husband a civil engineer. But in their early Canadian years, the couple got by making sandwiches and even babysitting.
Fifteen years later, they’ve settled into a South Surrey home and Abu Aboud says she feels it’s her duty to help others who find themselves where she once was.
“This is my home now and I want to help others,” she told the Now.
Abu Aboud spends her time taking care of her four children and volunteers with Options, Fraser Health and United Way.
This summer, she was a Peer Ambassador in the United Way Avenues of Change project, where locals are trained in early literacy or health promotion to improvement developmental outcomes for young children.
The project provides support for vulnerable children under the age of six. Surrey’s Guildford West neighbourhood was chosen for the project because it was identified as an area that struggles with child poverty – 43 per cent of children there are considered vulnerable.
Through the five-year Avenues of Change project, United Way aims to ensure more kids in the area start school ready to succeed. Without volunteers like Abu Aboud, it wouldn’t be possible.
As part of the project, one of the things Abu Aboud did was introduce families to reading programs at city libraries.
Without language, she said, you’re “stuck.”
“Even if you have money, you’re stuck. It’s a power for yourself to have another language,” she said.
“I encourage them to speak their language at home – to honour their language – but you have to learn the language here. That is your future.”
Step one is reading.
“It’s all about knowledge. You will be nothing without knowledge.”
But another important step for newcomers, she said, is getting out into the community – even if it’s just a walk around the neighbourhood, or a trip to the park.
Abu Aboud noted she doesn’t just help immigrants, refugees and Arabic-speaking families.
“I’ve helped English, Chinese, Filipino, everyone.”
She just finished round one of the United Way project, which ran from February to August, and she’s already signed up for the next round.
“For me, I will continue because there’s a lot of families that need to know what’s going on. We only catch a few and there’s a lot. I’m here to help,” said Abu Aboud. “My husband, my kids, we’re all social. We’re raised in a culture to help. You can’t stand up and look at other people suffering. If they need help, you have to do something.”
And with her children back in school next week, she will be returning to volunteer at the Guildford Health Unit, where she helps translate for newcomers, and Options’ Healthiest Babies Possible program.
Through it all, she tries to inspire others.
“Like others, we suffered, we lose our money, we start from the beginning,” she said. “It was hard times. But when you look at it in a positive way, you will gain a lot and you will give a lot.”