From time to time, you may have seen an article about University in the Community (UitC) in Learning Curves and wondered what it was and whether it was something that you might like to join.
UitC is a free, liberal arts program comprised of about 25-30 people all of whom are keenly interested in learning and in being active participants in ideas that shape their communities, their city, and the world. It is an initiative of the Workers’ Educational Association and is supported by the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto.
Who are the students of UitC? People who believe in lifelong learning. People who ask questions. People who make our city a more humane place to live. Here, below, in their own words, a few of the students will tell you something about who they are.
To find out more about UitC, all it takes is an email. We’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
A Warm Look Can Touch Someone Else’s Life
By Dr. Osman O.
One very hot August day, my wife and I were walking on Bloor Street. We’d been out for a long time. We were thirsty. While we were talking about a drink, a sign that read “Community Café All Are Welcome” caught our attention. We were curious and went inside. It was not like other cafés that we knew. There were eight or ten large round tables with people sitting around them.
I made eye contact with someone from afar, just at the entrance through the door. With his warm and sincere gaze, he invited us to his table. His name was Robert T. He was one of the most witty, most positive people I have ever known. We left that day with very positive thoughts. We liked the social environment.
Something unusual caught our attention that day. Those who brought treats such as tea, coffee and fruit to the table were almost all volunteers, women who were about my mother’s age. In the country I come from, older people usually sit at the table and young people serve them. However, these people enjoyed serving their guests despite their age. We learned that the Community Café is only open between 2 – 4pm on Wednesdays. Luckily, we had passed by when it was open. From then on, we went there whenever possible. We were always greeted very warmly. We made many friends there.
After our first meeting that day, we never lost touch with Robert. He helped us a lot, as he did everyone else. His friendship allowed us to meet different people. Our contact with the University in the Community was also thanks to him. We attended this program for seven semesters without missing a class. Well-known names in their field came as speakers. It has been a very useful program.
I am an academic. I was a communication professor at the university in my country. This program not only renewed my contact with the academic environment, but as a journalist and columnist for more than 30 years, it deepened my observations of this country and opened new horizons for me.
Here is something else that is characteristic of Robert. If he hears of a subject, an event, or a book that he thinks you might be interested in, he informs you in case you might not have heard about it.
Let me give you a few examples. When the former US Vice-President and environmental crusader, Al Gore, came to Toronto, we were unable to attend the event. Robert brought me a signed copy of Gore’s book, Truth to Power. He also brought me a signed copy of Istanbul, a book by Turkish author and Nobel prize-winner, Orhan Pamuk, and presented it as a gift.
Knowing that my wife is a good cook, Robert suggested different recipes and provided us with relevant magazines. He also personally showed us places where we could shop for halal food because he knew that we are Muslim. He told us where we could find things that we needed. This is very important information for newcomers to this country.
Robert and his wife Nenke have a special place in our lives. They are in constant touch with us and make sure that we are never left alone. When I went to Amsterdam, I found the house and the street where Robert lived when he was young, and sent photos to him.
When Robert caught COVID-19, we were very concerned. Later, he received physical therapy at Bridgepoint Hospital. Although he could not come to the window because he was connected to oxygen, we stood outside the hospital almost every day and prayed for him to recover. As I write these lines, his treatment continues in the hospital. We pray for him to recover and return to us as soon as possible.
Let me go back to the beginning.
One of the friends Robert introduced us to at the Community Café was Mary Katsuno. She was 91 when we met, but she was serving guests like a young girl. Her husband Tony, is 94 years old and very healthy. They both had incredible life energy. It was a great pleasure to chat with them. When they invited us to their home, they offered us something that brought tears to our eyes. They put some of the tools that might be needed in a home on the table. They offered them to us saying that there were only two of them and that they didn’t need to have two of the same thing in their house. They said, you just came to this country, you may need these, please take them. We will never forget this.
During the pandemic period, Mary and Tony could not leave their residence for over a year. We could not meet in person. But we stood in front of their building many times. They came to the window. Each time, we talked on the phone and each time we waved to each other.
We have good memories of many people we have met. Far too many, unfortunately, for me to list here.
You see, you enter a café for a cup of coffee, you are welcomed by a sincere pair of eyes and warm conversation, and then doors open in your life. It is impossible to believe that what we experienced was simply coincidence.
Canada is an immigrant country. It has been a very important tradition here that those who come before help those who come after. This situation also helps newcomers adapt to their new country in a short time.
Life’s Changing Seasons
By Adriana G.
Many years ago, on a cold and snowy day in February, I came to Canada.
My way from the airport was slow and the view impressive. I just wanted to jump out and eat that white stuff.
But as reality sunk in, I lived in-between adjusting to my new city and remembering everyone and everything I had left behind. I spent several months crying, learning and adjusting.
Snow became rain, I didn’t know either of them. I came from a dry and desert climate, with mountains and ocean. The seasons changed, each of them with magic and challenge. The amazing spring, beautiful parks and the immense variety of flowers helped me settle.
When I started working, I realized how diverse this country is. Living here has given me the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world and to learn about their culture, music and food.
On my first trip back to my birth country, I noticed that as life continues, everything and everyone changes with time.
Life is not an easy path and sometimes the decisions we make change our lives for the better. We need energy and resilience to fight adversity and to see that on balance, satisfaction, joy and optimism will win over frustration, sadness and failure.
I am aware that my family values and the educational formation that I brought with me, and the beautiful grandchildren that were born here, have helped me in the whole process. I am grateful for that every day. Let me end with this quote: “If you don’t have what you love, love what you have.”
All that Matters Stays with You
By Sara K.
My name is Sara. I was born in 1948, in Argentina, just 3 years after the end of World War II. People were searching for countries where they could live peacefully and start new families. Everybody was looking for somebody that they had lost track of during those tragic times.
My father came from Lithuania with only two siblings. The rest of his family perished in the Holocaust. My mother’s family had emigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms.
My parents met and married in 1947, and my sister and I were born. We were a middle-class family. My parents had very high moral values. By example, they showed us the value of respect, of helping others, and great love.
My childhood was a very happy one. I had lots of friends and lots of fun. But the best days were when my father took us to museums, the theatre, concerts. To finish the afternoon, we had a delicious hot chocolate with croissants.
My mother was a very active person who was involved in many charities and allowed me to participate in them. And how rewarding it was! She was the one who pushed me to get a better education so I studied until I graduated from University.
In 1973, I went to Israel to experience a different kind of life. When the war started, I decided to stay to help train other women who were needed to take over the men’s jobs. I felt scared. We could not have lights on at night, the windows had to be covered, and the alarm sirens sounded quite often. I saw how close death was and understood then that the best way to live is to enjoy each day to the fullest.
In 1975, I moved to Colombia. Already married, my 3 children were born in Cartagena.
Life was not easy. The culture and the people were completely different from what I knew but I washed my brain and told myself that the best way to adapt was to be involved in all kind of activities. I participated in charities, I worked in an art gallery, and I felt happy. I lived in Colombia for 25 years. Always I showed and encouraged my children to be strong and to fight for whatever they wanted to accomplish in life.
In 2001, I moved to Canada. Once again, it was not easy but being strong helped me to adapt more easily. I found a good job, painted and did mosaics in my free time, and met new people. Now that I am retired, I have more time to do whatever I like.
I often talk about my life with my grandchildren and tell them what I did and what I do: by always treating people with respect, helping others, and loving your family, your life will be more meaningful.
One of My Childhood Experiences
By Rumana K.
Growing up in Eritrea as a female was very hard. Observing strict tradition was especially true for girls who lived in small cities but it was a reality for girls who lived in big cities in Eritrea too.
In school, girls had to wear dress uniforms. The uniform had to be worn way below the knees. Most of us followed the official dress code but we always tried to be creative by adding a modern and fashionable touch.
I grew up with my aunt. She raised me to act like a lady in the way I spoke and walked. As a child, it was very hard not to be spontaneous and most of all not to be able to act like a child.
In school, our curriculum was clear. We were allowed to participate in sports activities if we dressed in sports clothes. At the beginning of the year, I signed myself up for volleyball. I prayed to god that my aunt would never f.ind out. I was afraid that if she found out I would be severely punished. She thought that sports were not for girls because they were not supposed to jump like boys. I took the risk anyway.
The only problem was that I needed the proper attire for the game: a pair of pants. But nothing could stop me. With or without proper pants, I was going to play.
I presented myself early in the morning for the practice, with my bag, a needle, thread and an old skirt. On my arrival, the coach asked me if I was going to wear pants. I said “no”. He said “then you cannot participate in the game.” I looked at him and said “I will.” He said “then get ready”. At this point I took my old skirt out of the bag and cut my skirt into four longitudinal parts and quickly started sewing the two ends in the hope that I could move my legs freely.
The coach was impressed with my determination and I guess he had a bit of sympathy too. He gave me permission to join. I was so happy that I jumped up and headed to the washroom to change. I was ready for the game with my skirt-pants.
The game started at 8:30am. I was ready for the ball. My team was given the first chance to throw the ball and the other teem responded. We were all tense, specially me. I said to myself: “I need to make a good impression and this is my chance.” But after ten minutes, a girl from the other team threw the ball out of the compound. The coach asked me to get it. As I ran to get it, I tripped over my skirt-pants and fell like a sack of potatoes. Everyone burst out laughing.
I burst into tears. I did not want to stand up despite my coach’s order to come with the ball. I hugged the ball and would not let it go. I thought I had lost my chance and that would not be able to play again.
A girl from my team came over to me and extended her hand for me to stand up.I refused because I knew that I had ripped my pants. Then almost all the girls from my team came to my rescue to show their support. That made me feel better.
Slowly, I saw the other team approaching. I felt upset but I believed that some of my team understood though some did not. When my coach extended his hand to me, that one gesture boosted my self esteem.