May 10, 2022
Written by Abirah Chandraraj, Social Media Intern
Many Scarborough residents have not yet been vaccinated. However, that is why we have our hard-working Vaccine Engagement Ambassadors to promote vaccinations and help remove barriers for people of Scarborough to get vaccinated.
Here is Kashmira’s story, a Vaccine Engagement Ambassador at The Housing Help Centre, one of SCHC’s Vaccine Engagement Project Partners.
Tell me about yourself.
Hi, my name is Kashmira. My education background is Computer Software. I came to this country 25 years ago. Last year, I lost my husband to cancer. I was going through a huge mental and financial challenge. Through that, I ended up looking into focus agencies where I was sent to the Housing Help Centre, which is where I met Ambi, my boss. At that time, I was really depressed and lost in life. I did not have any family or close relatives in Canada, it was just me and my son. I was looking for opportunities since my husband was in hospital and I had lost my job, housing, and finance. I was close to being homeless, but just the upper level of that. We were going through a rough time, but Ambi trusted me and offered me this job and it changed my life. With this job, I really improved my mental status.
Tell me about your role/work in on the ground engagement with community members to help get Scarborough vaccinated.
My role in the Scarborough community is to engage Indian, Pakistani, Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi, and Urdu speaking people along with other communities. I make them aware of vaccines, their effect, how people can go and get the vaccine, how and where they can book their vaccine appointments, where to get the vaccine, what times are convenient, and more. I help book appointments and work with people online and through outreach. I prefer outreach because when you see a person face to face, that is when they trust you. Outreach has been a great success and now, it becomes part of my everyday life. Whenever or whoever I meet, I always ask, “Did you get the vaccine?”, and when they responded “no”, I would ask why and provide them with information on how they can get vaccinated. In the past, I worked in an office environment all day so this job felt different and it has been an exciting experience.
What are some of the challenges in communicating with and reaching non-vaccinated people?
One of the challenges is that I have 16 hours on hand and within 16 hours, it’s hard to come out with a big output. The requirement for this job is 16 hours and in that time, I have to communicate with all kinds of people, including those who already had COVID. Sometimes, they disagree to take the vaccination because they think they are auto immune.
The biggest challenge is working with isolated communities with mental health challenges. It takes a few weeks to work with them to get vaccinated. Finding a good time to communicate with them is difficult but it is very important as they often travel using public transportation and can easily get COVID-19 and spread it.
What are some of the barriers/challenges our community faces in getting vaccinated?
Most of the barriers or challenges our community faces in getting vaccinated is the time frame to get vaccinated conflicting with their work time, or those who are unaware of second dose appointments. Some residents have waited for months thinking that their family doctors will call them and book their appointment, but I had to ensure that they are aware that you can get the second vaccine once 21 or 25 days are over.
I work with different age groups and find it most difficult to work with youth who are not involved or connected with an education system. It’s different talking to youth compared to adults because adults will talk about getting the vaccine for family’s safety and I can connect with them through questions like “Is your family safe?”. I can use safety with adults but that does not go for younger generations. When talking to youth, I noticed that the best way to convince them is through using phrases like, “Hey buddy, you cannot go to the club and if you want to go to club, you have to do this”.
I have learned that it is important to be consistent when talking to anyone because multiple conversations to build relationships and checking in with them often have an impact on making a decision.
Share an experience of one of your success stories that you are most proud of.
This success story is a combination of stories that are linked to each other. One day, I was working with a lady who had mental and physical challenges. She was isolated and raising a foster child. She was Gujarati-speaking, so I was able to connect easily and started becoming her friend. When I asked her to take the vaccine, she never refused. When someone refuses, you can address their concerns but because she said yes and that she will do everything, it was a bit difficult to get her to book an appointment. Even when I asked, “Do you want me to book your vaccine”, she would say, “No, I will book”.
One day, I went to do outreach in a plaza at Sheppard and Kennedy. I came across a homeless person who was playing the guitar near an LCBO store. I asked, “Did you get your vaccine?”, which became a conversation for 10-15 minutes. He mentioned that he did not get the vaccine yet because he was told that homeless people were given a $25 gift card to get the vaccine. I wasn’t able to offer a $25 gift card but I did offer him a Presto card to go get the vaccine.
I then said, “You have a nice guitar! Why don’t you play a vaccine song and I will listen to you”? He made up a song that went something like this.
“Let’s take a vaccine. Let’s be safe.
Let’s go to places without masks and be safe.
Let the city re-open everything.
Let’s go back to our regular lives.”
He began singing louder. That’s when another two homeless people heard and came and started to dance. I was with them singing and giving out flyers to all the people around for upcoming popup clinics – places where they did not need to book.
We were all happy and singing, “Let’s bring a safe community, let’s bring a safe country, let’s bring a safe world free of covid”. I gave all of them presto cards and business cards for them to contact me if they needed any help to book.
I shared this story with the isolated lady to get inspired, and she began laughing. I said “these people are taking the vaccine, why not you?”. She was open to getting vaccinated and I booked her a time slot with a popup clinic and made sure that others did not talk to her because she was very anxious. I took her health card and welcomed her outside the popup clinic and took her in and registered for her. She did not have to talk with anyone, and I made sure she was safe. I called her once a week and checked in with her.
I shared these stories with 2 other youth who weren’t registered with any education system, and they allowed me to book 2 slots for them to get their first dose of the vaccine. They came in but with 4 other youth. I got all of them an appointment to get their first dose of the vaccine.
I learned from these encounters about challenges and why people didn’t want to get vaccinated. I took those negativities and turned it into positivity and implemented into different groups. That’s how everyone gets connected with each other! I was so happy and proud of myself because one story led to the other. From the homeless man to the young lady to the youth group. I felt valued to them. My motivation is that if I can protect one person’s life, it means a lot because I lost someone in my life and I do not want others to lose any of their loved ones.
Is there anything else that you would like to add that I may have missed
If I had more hours in the day, I could help the community more. I will double my time and energy into it. I am always looking towards more similar opportunities to help others and where I can contribute my natural talent with positivity and encouragement. I have great problem-solving skills and I listen to others and never say no or that they are wrong. I always acknowledge their concerns and from that, I slowly make them positive so there is no conflict, and I would love more opportunities to go help more people.
Our Scarborough community has been getting higher vaccination rates and our Vaccine Engagement Ambassadors have been working hard to get as many residents in the community vaccinated in hopes of being one step closer to a normal life. Do your part in our community! If you are a Scarborough resident looking to book your vaccine, call or text 416-580-6741 or visit our COVID-19 resources and support page. We have ambassadors who speak the following languages.