Park Ex residents overcome language barriers to help neighbors navigate the system

Sitting at a table at the back of the Parc-Extension library, Anastasia Georgiou helps a man fill out the paperwork needed to sell his car.

It’s a familiar situation at the Bureau d’Information Parc-Extension (BIPE), a new multilingual resource that connects neighborhood residents to the services available to them.

“Almost every day we have to help clients fill out forms, even call them and make appointments for them,” says Georgiou, a longtime resident of Park Ex and adviser at BIPE.

For newcomers to Park Ex, who are still learning French and navigating the Quebec system, it is also a safe haven where they know they can get information on issues such as housing, jobs and schools – whatever language they speak.

These days, says Georgiou, many of the questions relate to access to legal aid, health care or the immigration process.

Anastasia Georgiou, BIPE counselor and second-generation Greek immigrant, says the service would have been a godsend for her parents when they arrived in Montreal. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

The women of BIPE speak several languages, which comes in handy when working with their neighbors who need help.

Georgiou, who speaks Greek and Spanish in addition to English and French, says she’s even learned chunks of new languages ​​through her job – like teekawhich means vaccine in Punjabi.

Build trust

“There are a lot of community organizations in Parc-Extension, but a lot of people don’t know about these resources,” says Qurat Ul-Ain, administrative assistant at the Table Ronde de Parc Extension, which founded the BIPE.

BIPE started out as a directory but grew into a multilingual, in-person service after the group went door-to-door last year in an effort to spread information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Qurat Ul-Ain, the administrative assistant at the Park Ex Roundtable, says building a sense of trust and security with customers is key. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

“When you spoke in the same language, people automatically opened up. They were more willing to share their issues. They were willing to get information,” she said.

That’s why it’s vital that counselors working at BIPE are able to speak with residents in a language they’re comfortable with, says Ul-Ain.

Shahista Hussein, counselor at BIPE, speaks seven languages: Swahili, Kutchi, English, Gujarati, Sindhi, Bengali and Punjabi.

And now she is also learning sign language.

BIPE counselor Shahista Hussein speaks seven languages, although she says she uses Punjabi most often when working. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Hussein says this type of service has been needed for years.

“Before, it wasn’t official. I was doing it on my own,” she says. “Now at least I have a place to work.”

Meryem Ouadban, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2010, says her own experience as a new immigrant helps her understand the challenges customers face.

Meryem Ouadban, advisor to BIPE, has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade. She says that working at BIPE is a way of caring for her community. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

“I’ve been through a lot as an immigrant and I know the needs of immigrants, so I’m really passionate about helping other people like me through their issues,” she said.

Ouadban says people should keep an eye out for what’s next with BIPE.

“We are only at the beginning and we still have a lot of ideas to try to bring more help to people in the neighborhood,” she said.

Dawn Montreal8:47Park Ex residents overcome language barriers to help neighbors navigate the system

We head to Park Extension Library on St-Roch with CBC’s Jennifer Yoon, where a group of women help immigrants, newcomers and other residents access the services they need. The group is called Bureau d’Information Parc Extension, or BIPE.

The official inauguration of the BIPE will take place on June 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in front of the Center William Hingston.

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