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Vancouver Island immigrant group stitches together relief from loneliness

Immigrant population more likely to deal with feelings of loneliness
Some of the work done by the sewing initiative. The group got together to help people battle loneliness and will host a bazaar on Dec. 9-10 at 850 Blanshard St. (News Staff/Thomas Eley)

Two B.C. women sharing in each other’s loneliness started a sewing initiative that has helped those who do not share a common language to find a connection.

Ericka Hidori is from Japan and moved to Victoria 10 years ago but started to feel lonely as her friends moved away, she said.

“I didn’t have anybody to talk to except family members,” she said.

Rima Syed Jaafar, a refugee from Syria, said that sewing was the only way that she could express herself and deal with the trauma she faced when she fled her home country. She joined Hidori in the sewing initiative and it became a vital step in trying to keep destructive, lonely thoughts from spiralling out of control.

The group was so successful in the initial stages that what was meant to be a two-hour meeting would often run over five, they said.

In July 2023, Statistics Canada released a report that looked at loneliness among the immigrant population of Canada. It said immigrants who arrived as adults in Canada are likelier to feel lonely than those born here.

Connection and purpose are vital in combating loneliness, said Soraya Centeno, clinician and supervisor at Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees.

When people first arrive on Vancouver Island, there is a honeymoon period, said Centeno, where everything is lovely, but this quickly fades.

Once that is over, and they do not understand the language or the social systems, a feeling of isolation will settle in.

There are plenty of side effects to loneliness, she said.

“You get into suicide ideation, desperation, hopelessness. There is a spiral, so loneliness, not being able to connect, not being able to go anywhere.”

The impact loneliness has will differ between age group, sex, and ability to speak English, she said.

“The first thing to do is try to learn English because at least that way you are communicating and be able to express your thoughts.”

For people who move to Canada and learn English, there can be a sense that the person will lose a part of who they are, she said.

A big group that is often at risk when it comes to feelings of loneliness and isolation are young people who come to study.

“They don’t know how to break out of the negative inner thoughts that invade their mind but also their bodies.”

These young immigrants will often arrive with families, but sometimes by themselves, and would have done so at great expense to their relatives, said Centeno.

This feeling of loneliness will often lead to these teenagers and young adults partaking in harmful activities, such as vaping, smoking and consuming alcohol.

“They try to cope the best they can because they’re in pain. And they are in pain because they are missing home.”

For older immigrants, some of the problems that exist for younger people are the same, but also, there is a distinct difference for people coming from troubled areas of the world, she said.

“Some of these immigrants and refugees that come to us say that they didn’t have a childhood.”

What this means is a lack of ability to play, whether that is to go out in the sun, write poetry, or enjoy music. There is an inability to express themselves and talk about the loneliness that they are feeling.

There is also a lot of stigma that comes with asking for help, and people must be comfortable enough to be able to share what they are going through and often that is a harrowing thing to do, said Centeno.

“Canada can have a very isolated culture where people can often feel like they cannot talk about their problems with one another.”

It is more complex than just going to join a group such as a hiking club or volleyball tournament, she said.

“Some extroverted people would say, ‘Great, I want to be able to talk and I’m confident enough to join these groups and be part of the group and go through the activities that I can.’

“For other people, it could be detrimental because the only thing they will find is, ‘Oh my God, I cannot follow the group. I really cannot understand what’s going on.’”

That is when their mental health could explode, according to Senteno, and with every individual, there will be a different method to deal with their loneliness.

It does take baby steps to try and defeat loneliness and isolation, she said. There is also a good amount of help from local Canadians, who are generally willing to help where they can.

Hidori and Syed Jaafar are now trying to take the next step in their sewing and turn a passion into something where they can be competitive on the open market.

They will be hosting their first bazaar on Dec. 9, and it will be a good opportunity for those who struggled with finding purpose and connection in Victoria.

The event, Stitching Bonds: Empowering Communities Through Sewing, will take place at 850 Blanshard St., Victoria, on Dec. 9-10 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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