Monday evening Welcome Sessions are a collaborative initiative between the Atwater Library, the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness and MSF Urban Spaces. The programme is supported by the YMCA Residence for Asylum Seekers and PRAIDA (the Quebec Government’s programme to welcome asylum seekers). The purpose of the initiative is to welcome newly arrived asylum seekers to Montreal and introduce them to members of the Montreal community as well as to community resources, including the library itself.
Each Monday, volunteers go over to the YMCA Residence and walk through the common areas, inviting residents next door to the library for a welcome session with tea, biscuits, and conversation about life in Montreal. Once in the library, volunteers divide into language groups, with the most commonly represented languages being English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
The small group conversations centre around life in Montreal– how to find out about free events in the city, what the various neighbourhoods in the city are like, where to find language classes at community centres, festivals over the summer, cultural centres, etc. While the adults converse, several volunteers assist by reading books, colouring and playing with the children.
Beyond introducing the asylum seekers to the city and to residents who know the city well, thus expanding their social connectedness, these sessions also build shared understanding between Montrealers and newcomers. Montrealers have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and backgrounds and can begin to understand the realities of forced migration.
Over 100 adult asylum seekers and their children who have recently arrived (between 0 days and 3 weeks) to Montreal, have been reached in more than 5 sessions. Countries of origin range from: Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, El Salvador, Nigeria, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Angola, South Sudan, Chad, Senegal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Palestine, Iran and Lebanon.
Over 30 volunteers have been involved, ranging in age from 12 to 56. They are a mix of long-time Montrealers and those who have come from elsewhere, with countries of origin ranging from: the Netherlands, the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Belgium, France, India, Spain and Mali.