One international volunteer's experience has undoubtedly changed since she first arrived in September.
COVID-19 arrived more than two months ago, and it has impacted every corner of life in Winnipeg, including for Maria Elena Moshan Alvarez, or Male (Ma-lay) for short, who has been volunteering at the Indigenous Family Centre (IFC) in Winnipeg since she arrived in September.
Moshan Alvarez is from Mexico and came to Canada to participate in the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), which is a cross-cultural volunteer exchange opportunity for international Christian young adults.
Once a week, Moshan Alvarez helps hand out pre-packaged food bank items from Winnipeg Harvest through a small window, perfect for a contactless exchange.
IFC has also been putting together weekly activity and snack packages for families that normally attend the kid’s program as well as sewing masks to give to the community.
MCC photo/Emily-Ann Doerksen
“It has been a big change from having the building be full of people coming and going, with programs running in multiple rooms at once, to now having the building empty except for a few staff at a time,” said Janessa Giesbrecht, the Traditional Handcrafts Coordinator and Moshan Alveraz's supervisor at the Indigenous Family Centre.
The Indigenous Family Centre serves families in the north end with opportunities to build community, develop skills, experience healing and learn about Indigenous culture, Giesbrecht explained.
Moshan Alvarez says her volunteer placement has changed a lot due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic began, Moshan Alvarez’s tasks were very social and people-oriented. From Monday to Friday, she helped run the kid’s clubs, attending prayer circles, managing drop-ins, and taking care of the many plants, birds and fish that live at the centre.
“I like (working there). I care for the plants and talk with the people sometimes when they come for lunch or breakfast,” said Moshan Alvarez.
With her free time, Moshan Alvarez is keeping busy with daily yoga, crafting and watching movies with her host family on the weekends. She is keeping in touch with her family back home in Mexico with calls and video chats. The situation at home is very similar. “My city is closed, the store, the street, the church,” said Moshan Alvarez.
There are currently two other IVEPers in Manitoba. A third decided to return home after her work placement closed in early March. The three remaining IVEPers are keeping busy by working from home, taking English lessons online, exploring new hobbies or engaging in activities with their host families.
“The IVEPers have been so adaptable during this time. They’re weighing the uncertainty of their daily life, and they’re weighing the uncertainty of what they’re going home to,” said Jennifer Saner-Harvey, the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) Coordinator for MCC Manitoba. “They’ve been courageous, they’ve relied on their faith, their connection to their IVEP group and their host families have been incredibly supportive."
Although her IVEP experience may not have ended as Moshan Alvarez had planned, she has thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She now has a better understanding of what newcomers who arrive in her home country experience.
“I know it (was) difficult for me when I arrived here,” she said. “I am more sensitive to people from another culture.”
This year is the fourth time that IFC has hosted an IVEPer at their centre.
"It has been great to see Male connect with the Indigenous elders in our community as they share the similarities and differences in the cultures," said Giesbrecht. “Male has been wonderful to have at the IFC. The calm and steady presence that she brings has both resonated with the adults that come to the drop-in and art programming, and draws the kids to her as well."
The IVEPers from across Canada and the states will be meeting virtually one last time before their scheduled departure date on July 6th. During their transition home, MCC will support the participants as they navigate international travel and adherence to local quarantine regulations.
To learn more about IVEP, visit mcccanada.ca/get-involved/serve/volunteer/ivep. Please note the IVEP program for the following year has been cancelled and will be revisited in the coming year.
To learn more about the Indigenous Family Centre, please visit www.ifcentre.com/.