August 2, 2018 6:53 pm

Montreal book exchange service for kids builds bridges between cultures

WATCH: A grassroots book swap program to help integrate new arrivals is growing in popularity in the borough of Saint-Laurent. Global's Phil Carpenter explains.

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People are being drawn to a little yellow box next to a parking lot at the CLSC on Saint-Croix Avenue in the borough of Saint-Laurent.

“I saw this little yellow cabinet last week and wondered what it was,” smiles Preety Sharma. “And when we just peeked in, we saw so many great books for my kids.”

It’s for a book swapping service, mainly for kids, that was set up about two weeks ago by speech therapist Sabah Meziane, and it’s a bit different from what most people may have seen.

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“We have books for children to from zero to five years old and a bit older,” she tells Global News.

And some of the books are in different languages, like Arabic, Urdu, Chinese, she adds. Along with English, and French, these are the languages most spoken by residents in the Saint-Laurent borough, one of the most diverse on the island.

The programme is supported by Programme StimuLER, a non-profit organization that promotes language development in refugee children. They’re partnering with Au Coeur de L’Enfance, a non-profit group with services for kids that put the box just outside its office.

The service is mainly to help newcomers to the city.

“This city has many immigrants,” Meziane says, “and since 2015 they have also many refugees.”

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Many of the newcomers don’t read French or English and can’t read most available books to their children. But if they can get their hands on books in their own language, and read to their kids, it helps with language development.

“A child that has a strong basis in a language in their own culture will learn French very easily,” Au Coeur de L’Enfance director Christine Durocher tells Global News.

For Meziane, there’s another reason this program is so worthwhile. She says when parents take books in other languages, they and their kids can learn something about the culture. You don’t need the words to understand the stories.

“It also helps other kids who are here, from Canadian, Quebec backgrounds, with the ability to understand, visually, what other cultures are all about,” adds borough Mayor Alan DeSousa.

Meziane hopes similar projects will also take off in other boroughs and cities. For her, it’s about building bridges.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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