“I can’t recall a time she said no to us when we asked for help,” is how Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator, Nahrin Ojanes, describes Sepideh Yazdanpanah, a volunteer whose commitment to COSTI and newcomers is only outdone by her positivity. Eight years ago, Sepideh left her homeland of Iran to come to Canada. She immediately accessed one of the Welcome Centre Immigrant Services’ locations in York Region and was quickly connected to COSTI’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) English classes and employment supports. The experience stirred a desire in her to help other newcomers.
As a child, the now 43-year-old experienced violence and disruption in her homeland first-hand. (The Iran-Iraq war waged from 1980 to 1988). It is this experience that has given her empathy and a deep understanding of what some Afghans might be feeling. “My country was involved in war so I know the trauma they are going through and how hard it is, especially for the children,” says Sepideh. She felt immediate compassion when first watching the news and hearing of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, and knew she had to find a way to help. “I speak Farsi, a language spoken in parts of Afghanistan, so I knew I could do something.”
Sepideh started helping Afghan refugees in November 2021, and has done everything from interpreting to facilitating activities to doing some support work, such as accompanying clients to Service Ontario and helping them apply for health cards, or accompanying individuals and families on their first public transit outing and explaining how the system works. She herself travels across town on public transit, crossing the city to meet COSTI clients to help in any way she can.
Her support has extended to personal donations. As someone who works part-time in retail, she didn’t hesitate to use her company discount to purchase 12 winter coats for the Afghan children, many arriving to experience the brutal cold of Canadian winters for the first time. She also went out of her way to secure disposable face masks for the families.
“Sepideh is also an artist. She helped COSTI with our storytelling program for children 6 to 12 years of age, and had them very engaged in a creative way by having them paint and draw,” adds Nahrin. Sepideh is a dedicated volunteer who seems to have a limitless desire to help in as many ways as she can, and when asked what motivates her, her answer is simple. “I am really happy to listen to them. it is a pleasure for me, and makes me feel good.”
Engaging with COSTI as a volunteer has also influenced Sepideh’s career choices. She took some immigration courses at Humber College and is also pursuing the Settlement Worker program at Seneca College. “I’ve learned so much thanks to COSTI. I’m really experiencing my education with the work I do.”
As a COSTI ambassador, Sepideh is truly grateful for the support she received personally as a client, and for the possibilities COSTI gives her as a volunteer to help others and not just from Afghanistan, but from around the world. Her trips accompanying clients extend to individuals from all backgrounds. “I say this truly. COSTI is a great place to work and support. The staff follow up and help so many clients, no matter your language or skin colour, there’s no discrimination. Everyone is helped, and I really love that.”