Peter van Katwijk understands how challenging it can be for newcomers to leave everything behind to build a new life, in a new country. “I came to Canada from Holland in 1954,” Peter explains. “I came on a ship. It was after World War II and I was very grateful to be here.” At the same time, Peter says it was hard to leave his culture and his friends behind. “It can be overwhelming. You feel a bit like you’re in a fog.”
For 34 years Peter was an elementary school teacher. “During that time I taught many children who were new to Canada. I understood what it felt like to be in a new country. I knew when I retired from teaching I wanted to volunteer and share my experiences to help other newcomers transition into a new life in Canada.”
“I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to use my experience as a teacher to help newcomers improve their English.”
Just over a year after he retired, Peter saw an ad in the paper for the New Canadians Centre. “They were looking for volunteers to help with English classes. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to use my experience as a teacher to help newcomers improve their English.”
For more than 16 years, Peter was a dedicated volunteer who brought his love and warmth for teaching to the NCC. He facilitated the weekly English Conversation Group and worked closely with Anne Elliott, Community Connections Worker. “He was an integral part of the NCC family when I joined the organization in 2011,” says Anne.
Whether his students in the English Conversation Class were working on an essay for school or a resume to get a job, Peter was there to help and support them. “I wanted to help them become successful, whatever it was they were pursuing. I wanted the experience to be fun for them too. I’m a photographer and I shared pictures I had taken, films, catalogues, and personal objects – anything that would inspire connection and help to build a greater understanding of Peterborough and their community.”
“Peter’s greatest strength was the personal interest he took in people.”
Anne says Peter always had the wellbeing of his students at heart. “Peter really cared about each and every newcomer,” Anne says. Because he was an immigrant himself, Peter was able to identify with the newcomer experience. “His great strength was the personal interest he took in people,” Anne says. “He would go out of his way to bring in materials to help clients learn more about Peterborough and Canada in order to support them with whatever they wanted to do in their new life here. He was passionate about sharing his love of Canada with others. With this came a wish to make newcomers feel welcome and be successful, so that they would love the country too.”
It goes without saying Peter was dedicated to supporting the work of the NCC. “I have wonderful memories of working with students from all around the world; China, Tibet, Turkey, Korea, Africa, Argentina. So many countries and so many rich experiences – from potluck dinners at the Market Hall to helping students prepare for driving tests. I’m very grateful for all of these special times. I’m a lucky guy.”
“It was a pleasure to work with Peter,” says Anne. “When I began working for the organization in 2011, Peter was very supportive of me. Our programs were growing and we needed more volunteers who could not only teach, but understand what it feels like to be a newcomer. Peter did both. With passion and commitment to building a more diverse and welcoming community.”
This story is part of the New Canadians Centre’s #WeBelong Campaign – Celebrating 40 Years of Inspiring and Encouraging Newcomers.
The #WeBelong Campaign shares powerful stories of Belonging, Home, Hope, and Community from our 40 Years. Follow along with the stories and opportunities on our page: www.nccpeterborough.ca/webelong