As an Iranian-Canadian immigrant, a kinesiology graduate, and an aspiring medical student, Arad Solgi has had a long-standing passion for helping refugee newcomers navigate the healthcare system in Canada.
When Arad and his family immigrated to Canada in 2012, he recalls a difficult adjustment without having any friends or family to help them. Arad’s dream was, and continues to be, to pursue a career as a physician.
Arad remembers the challenges when he started on this journey as a newcomer.
“Not having a social circle meant that I had to learn things on my own, and sometimes that meant making mistakes and learning from them, Arad said. “I had to work on my English for a while until I was able to pass the qualifying English exams and apply for university.”
The experience of learning English and working towards his dream is what inspired him to become a Welcome Group volunteer.
“Because I went through this myself, I wanted to be there for people going through the same experience of being new to the country and establishing themselves.”
Arad’s passion is to help newcomers navigate through the healthcare system—because as he teaches them, he is learning, too.
“If I am going to be a physician, it is important for me to know how the system works for different people,” he said.
“Doing this gives me a broader perspective for someone who is coming from a different country: what are their issues? What can we do to facilitate things for them? It is a learning process for everyone— me included.”
As he assists newcomers, Arad is finding ways for healthcare to be more accessible for everyone.
“When I am trying to help families here, I have to learn it myself and be able to transfer that knowledge,” he said. “I hope to help ensure our healthcare system will be as inclusive as possible for people from different backgrounds, different experiences.”
As a Welcome Group volunteer, Arad has readily supported Syrian and Afghan newcomers in many ways.
“In my matches, I have been in a support role, and I have been a connector, a Farsi translator, and an ESL teacher,” Arad said.
For Arad, it’s important that Together Project creates matches according to the volunteers’ interests and the families’ priorities. “They match us so that we can best suit the needs of the family we are matched with,” he said.
With his knowledge of the Canadian healthcare system, he advocates for newcomers to prioritize their health.
“The most important thing I have noticed is that when refugees come here, they usually have healthcare needs,” he said.
“They need to find a family physician, and that is an issue because a lot of family physicians are not taking new families, and we have to also find a family physician who speaks the language they speak.”
Arad urges newcomer families not to push their healthcare needs aside.
“We have families coming with members who have disabilities, underlying conditions, and who need mobility accommodations,” he said. “It takes time to learn a language, but that does not mean you should wait until you can fully communicate in English before you see a doctor. Healthcare is an essential need.”
Arad loves the diversity amongst fellow volunteers in his Welcome Groups.
“In one of the groups I was volunteering with, there were African Canadians, Eastern Europeans who were refugees themselves, and me, from the Middle East,” he said.
“We all had different backgrounds, but we were all coming together to help. I am proud that we are stronger together– this feeling that resonates within every session is what I love.”
He describes their sessions as being filled with good energy and positive vibes.
“Let’s say we are working on language practice together, and that person is learning something. When they finally get it right, everyone cheers!” he said.
“This positive energy is like a battery for me. It is one of my sources of energy in my everyday life.”
One of Arad’s favourite things about Canada is the diversity of cultures and languages.
But for potential volunteers who have not emigrated from another country, he encourages them to see how they, too, have something to give.
“Even if you have been to a new city or a new company, you had the feeling of transition, of moving,” he said.
“Starting a new journey, a new job—that brings about the same feeling that you need support, and this is the feeling that you can bring forward to Together Project.”
He empathizes with refugees who come to Canada without any connections.
“Finding that social circle is hard. It is not that you can simply walk into the street and make friends,” he said.
“One of the most important things that Together Project does is fill that support. We help them make the transition in settlement, that is one thing, but the feeling that ‘There are people who care for me, who will do their best to support me’– that is a reassuring and beautiful feeling for people to have in their hearts.”
Interview by Jennilee Austria