Our team of Case Managers play a very important role in the journey our newcomer clients make in starting a new life here in Waterloo Region. 

And during this pandemic, that responsibility and their workload has only increased. 

That’s why we want to give you a peek behind the screen from a few of our Case Managers. We asked them how things have changed after COVID-19, the challenges newcomers are facing during this crisis, and what keeps them motivated to do this important work, amongst other topics. Here are some questions we asked them, as well as their responses. 

1. How long have you been at Reception House? 

James Swaka: l have been with Reception House since 2006, first as a volunteer for a couple of years, and then I transitioned into a casual interpreter role. In 2008, I started part-time as a Night attendant/Life skill worker at our temporary accommodation at 101 David St. Then, in 2011, l joined Reception House as a Case Worker full-time.

Wilma Laku: I have been working with Reception house for over 13 years.   

Nadra Tamourt: I have been with Reception House since 2011.

2. How has your role changed because of COVID-19? 

James: This has been an unprecedented time. Our traditional roles and duties changed so dramatically. Our role in advocating for our clients became intense as most systems lost most of their capacity or modified their traditional duties. This in turn meant we had to bridge the gap, especially for clients’ medical or schooling needs. We are now operating remotely and communicating with them through all the available apps such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Meet and Skype. This virtual communication also comes with its own challenges. The most significant is that most of our clients are not tech savvy or literate in their own languages.

Wilma: Our main focus has been client-centered and we are still doing the same during the lockdown and to the best of our ability. What has changed for us is the method of service delivery in terms of locations and meetings with clients physically.    

Nadra: My role has slightly changed now that we are practicing social distance, But I still do my regular case management duties virtually and over the phone. That means I don’t get to see my clients and touch base on regular home visits (which are very crucial to get the right assessment of situations that arise while working with clients. ) But that only motivates me to work harder to help and try to understand to serve them better. 

3. How are our clients reacting to this current crisis? What are their biggest challenges/struggles right now?

James: They have been mentally and physically affected as a result of the lockdown. Some signs of isolation are starting to show, which we have been handling with our partners. For the most part, our clients have shown their built-in resilience. They just need some support to navigate the new environment that they still do not understand. They have been appreciative of Reception House following up with them and addressing the questions they may have in a comforting approach. We also conduct weekly surveys on issues that may arise in this current environment.

Wilma: They were scared like all of us. Coming to Canada was a dream, and in a blink of an eye they have to face a deadly virus after reaching a safe home and have enrolled their children in school. The current crisis has taught gratitude and patience, and they are more appreciative of the services they have and are still receiving. I’ve gotten questions like, “When will things go back the way they used to be?” and “How can we give back to the community?” One positive thing that has come from this situation is that some people have enhanced their relationship with their children and are spending more time together. Some are also feeling lonely, specifically the singles and seniors who came to Canada without their families. Language has been a challenge. The clients have to depend mostly on their case managers to assist most of the time. Of course, not having reliable means of transportation is the biggest issue/challenge for new Canadians (individuals and families) to be able to navigate around safely.

Nadra: Clients have learned to be more patient than ever, They are more engaged to learn about every aspect of their new life in Canada and very eager to know how to protect themselves and their families.They ask questions like, “When are we going back to see you again?” and “When things will return to normal?” Most of them have family and loved ones overseas, so they have been asking questions about if the Government will bring more refugees and when. I think the biggest challenge they are facing right now is access to services without having to go through a long and difficult process. Language has also become more challenging to them now that access to interpreters is limited and they cannot use body language as easily. The other thing is technology, as most of our clients are not very tech-savvy. 

4. How do our newcomer clients inspire you?

James: It has been really amazing to see our clients doing their best to embrace tools they are not very familiar with. For example, we have seen families use google classroom despite no formal education/tech skills to assist their kids.

Wilma: Clients are resilient and have tried their best to handle the situation like any other community that has been here for years. Our clients have taught us to be humble, grateful, and have hope that tomorrow things will go back to normality. They have experienced wars where it was not safe, and at least during this crisis, basic needs are covered and the family is safe in terms of personal security.  

Nadra: Our clients are inspiring me by their care for their families and loved ones. When you hear them saying ‘I am staying home and not going outside unless I need to because I cannot put my mother’s/ father’s health in jeopardy’, you really get a sense of how much love they have for those close to them. They are also doing a great job practicing social distancing, even though they love visits with each other and their networks. We sure learn a lot from refugees and their journeys to be strong and patient during difficult times like this. 

5. Is it easy or difficult for our clients to navigate systems and services right now?

James: This is a million-dollar question! The system is challenging for Canadians who were born here. For someone who arrived recently from another country, it’s a tall order. As such, most of my job is advocating for our clients and addressing those system gaps on a daily basis. It is challenging, but it’s one brick at a time. We have come a long way and have made some progress for our clients in the past few years. There is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Wilma: Language is the main challenge because they cannot advocate for themselves or access services online. That is why they rely on the case managers most of the time. I try to have as much empathy and humility and do my best to serve our newcomers. I work hand-in-hand with clients to empower them. This crisis has planted the spirit of gratitude all around the country. Hopefully, we continue to live our life day by day in harmony and continue to build on existing services.

Nadra: It is very difficult for our clients to navigate systems and services right now because of how so many things are in transition. The lack of technology skills only adds to this challenge. I feel that Reception House plays an important role in this respect.