Canadian colleges give gentle help to Indian students

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Living in a big city for the first time can be a frightening experience for the Indian girl or boy who has grown up in Canada's rural areas. Even more terrifying is the thought of being abruptly thrust onto a college campus among strangers from totally different backgrounds, and this is believed to be one of the main reasons so few Indians go on to higher learning.

With this in mind, the University of Toronto has set up a summer employment program for Indian high school students from the outlying areas. It is aimed at giving them not only jobs but an opportunity to get to know something about the ways of the city as well as a little of campus life.

The program's two coordinators are themselves from Indian reserves and have had to overcome the same problems as many of the young people they've been interviewing. One of the coordinators in Ursula Souliere, who says that even buying a book of streetcar tickets can be upsetting for someone from an isolated reserve who possibly has never even seen a streetcar before.

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One girl told her she was frightened at the mass of people at rush hour, and didn't know how she would ever be able to cope with city life.

Mrs. Souliere comes from Wikwemikong, an Ojibwa reserve on Manitoulin Island.She remembers clearly what those first days in Toronto were like for her.

"I took a streetcar going the wrong way, and I just stood up at the front looking straight ahead, never daring to look behind me. I stayed on right to the end of the line. When I finally did look around I saw nothing but a lot of empty seats."

Now after taking the university's one-year preparatory course for regular university work, Mrs. Souliere is taking a sociology course at the university. This past summer her work involved trying to match those applying for work with the kind of job they would benefit from the most. However, with more than 60 applicants for the 20 available jobs, this hasn't always been possible, and sometimes the best she can do is urge them to make the most of every opportunity.

"Even if the job has been taken, turn up for the interview," she told one student. "The interview will be a good experience for you."

Nancy Corbiere, the other coordinator, is full of sympathy for the young students. Not so long ago she was a shy young girl from Sucker Creek reserve on Manitoulin, who was too timid even to call someone on the phone. "I'd get someone else in my family to do it for me," she recalled.

However, things are different now, and this year she will enter Sudbury's Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology for a course in social work.

This is the second year in the program for Donna Bomberry of the Six Nations reserve near Brantford. She has won her battle against shyness, and this past summer did general office work and some laboratory work in the university's medical sciences building. Eventually the senior high school student hopes to go on to university, where she will study law.

The summer jobs are for nine weeks. Salaries are financed with the help of government grants. Jobs vary from greenhouse assistant to receptionist. Since the program was begun about 10 years ago at the University of Western Ontario in London, it has been extended to three universities and seven technical colleges across Ontario.

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