Last weekend, Khalsa Aid’s Metro Vancouver team held their annual winter jacket drive, providing winter jackets to international students at no cost.
The Mata Gujri and Chotai Sahibzaade Winter Drive is in memory of the mother and children of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru of the Sikh faith who endured the harsh winter conditions, without any warmth or protection, as a form of punishment by Mughal authorities.
The event evidently addressed a strong need in the community for winter gear amongst international students in the community, many of whom are facing their first ever Canadian winter.
“We were flooded with phone calls and emails for requests. So there's a definite need out there, because [international students are] not used to this climate,” said Khalsa Aid Vancouver Coordinator Baljit Lally.
"The weather dipped so fast, like we missed fall and went straight into winter. So there's a definite need.”
450 international students were registered to attend, and over 100 additional requests came in after the registration deadline passed.
International students in Canada face a range of challenges while transitioning to life in Canada. While managing a university workload and living away from family for the first time is hard enough, international students are also vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation with little knowledge of how to seek adequate support for issues such as housing, health care, employment and mental health.
It’s for this very reason that Khalsa Aid uses the provision of winter gear as a way to get international students through the door, so they can connect them with other community resources.
“In conjunction with giving free jackets, we try to provide a whole gamut of resources for them, from WorkSafeBC, to mental health services to food banks, to financial literacy from Khalsa Credit Union and Surrey RCMP,” Lally said.
Representatives from other community organizations who provide services in support of international students, such as the South Asian Mental Health Alliance (SAMHA) and Students Overcoming Substance Use Disorder and Addictions (SOUDA) were also present.
According to Lally, many students hesitate to seek support from local organizations because they often worry that they’ll have to pay for their services.
“Students from other countries feel there's no resources for them out there that are for free, or they feel like they don't have access because they don't have the financial resources. But little do they know, they don't need any finances. [The services are] just provided.”
As the response to the drive demonstrates, the demand for support is overwhelming—but many international students don’t know where to start.
Once they were in a low-barrier environment, Lally explained how students were keen to engage with the various community organizations.
“You can see that there is a need for help…So there definitely is a need and we do need to bridge that gap. They come here at such a young age, and we need to support them in the best way we can.”
Events like these provide organizations with the opportunity to connect with international students, and with each other, in a centralized space while providing supports and solutions directly to the community. They actively seek to bridge the gap between the support needed, and the pathways available to international students.
The need to form meaningful relationships within the community is evident, and supporting organizations who are doing the work on the ground level is a vital element of building community solidarity in real time.
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