Marilyn Hammond has made a career of being a “mom.” Landing in Kamloops 40 years ago in 1977, Marilyn worked for Interior Computing before starting her family with husband Gerry. Opting to become a stay-at-home mother, Marilyn said, “I volunteered with the PAC from the first daughter in elementary school to the third daughter graduating from high school. I was involved with everything I could be with the kids.”

It was while their own children were young that the Hammonds began participating in the TRU Homestay program, welcoming a steady stream of young people from countries such as Korea, China and Hong Kong. It was a great opportunity for the girls to get exposure to different cultures and it gave the newcomers a non-threatening opportunity to practise their English.

Marilyn’s obligations as a homestay mother were to “provide a home, meals and transportation to and from college.” But Marilyn and the rest of the family enjoyed helping the students learn about Canada, practise English and teach them a few colloquiallisms such as “Take a hike,” or “Hit the road.” Laughter would ensue when the student would inevitably say “Hit the hike” or “Take a road.” Students would be included in regular family activities and road trips. Some students stayed a matter of weeks and others stayed for a couple of years. It depended on many things including course of study and enthusiasm for participating in a homestay placement.

The homestay phase offers the student a chance to familiarize themselves with Canadian culture, get settled in at school, find friends and build a network. It’s a helpful stepping stone until the student is ready to take next steps.

Marilyn said that over 50 people have lived with her family over the years — family, friends, nieces, cousins as well as the students. “It’s just in my nature to help people and have people around.”

She enjoys the laughter that comes with crosscultural exchange; learning a few new phrases in another language, sharing unique foods like “mooncake” or comparing lifestyles and living conditions.

“I keep pretty strict rules. I make sure they get to school, take the bus, keep their room tidy and pick up after themselves, help with dishes; really not that different from how it was for my own children. I make sure they know it isn’t a hotel.”

The Hammonds had actually stopped doing homestay for a while as they turned their focus to caring for Gerry’s ailing mother as well as babysitting a granddaughter. That was until TRU called looking for a place for a special young student from Egypt.

A bright and spirited young woman, Nada Abdelghaffar arrived in Kamloops in January to begin her studies at TRU. On top of the regular challenges of coming to a different country to study Nada happens to be completely blind and has been since birth. Where she comes from, to be blind is to be highly dependent on others. Now in Canada, she must learn how to use a white cane; how to mark; basic life skills that would have been encouraged and taught from childhood here.

Nada’s English skills are excellent and she is clearly a bright and eager student with great ambition. Currently taking ESL and a history course, Nada will also be taking a geography course in the fall but the course materials need to be adapted for her use and this takes time. Her long-term plan is to acquire a degree in journalism and political science, her intellectual curiosity having been sparked by the Arab Spring and the events that followed in Egypt since 2011.

While she will be moving into the student residence at the end of this semester and her mother will come visit her for the summer, Nada has enjoyed her time with Marilyn and Gerry. The 19-year-old is excited by the level of accessibility we have here compared to her home country. Everything is new to Nada, “like braille in our elevators,” but just as she managed to travel here on her own, she seems prepared to keep working towards her goals.

Marilyn and Nada participate in a bit of cheeky banter that comes easily to both of them. They promise to stay in contact after Nada moves into student housing as they each focus on their respective life challenges.

Marilyn asks Nada if they celebrate Mother’s Day in Egypt. Nada explains that it is a celebration of spring. It takes place on March 21 (the Spring Equinox) and was started in the era of Cleopatra. With a little bit of research, it is not hard to discover that our North American version of Mother’s Day came about a few centuries later with an initiative by American Anna Jarvis in 1908 when she held a memorial for her own mother. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation declaring the second Sunday of May as a national day to honour mothers in the US — a practice many nations of the world have since adopted including Canada. The intention of honouring our mothers is the same and the spirit of the day is universal. Happy Mother’s Day!