Barbara Walker has no idea why the Immigrant Welcome Centre tapped her as this year’s recipient of their annual Ambassador Award.
“I really don’t know what they’re thinking,” she says. “I’m just doing what I do. I’m not that important.”
But IWC executive director Jim Brennan says those are exactly the kind of people that should be recognized by an award like this.
“When I told her she’d be receiving the award, she said, ‘there must be someone else who deserves it more,’” Brennan says. “She’s a very humble person and she doesn’t feel like she needs to be seen. She does it to help people, not to be seen helping people. That’s what makes people like her authentic and genuine and that’s what makes them super valuable in terms of being a role model for other people. Because for people like her it’s just inherent in who they are. They get up every day and choose to be impactful. They choose to approach the world in a positive, constructive way. What more can you ask for?”
For her part, Walker just sees volunteering and advocating for social change as a duty.
She sat on the board of Rivercorp and was part of the re-intergration of what that body was supposed to accomplish back into City Hall. She goes to city council meetings “to make sure they are in the room for things that I think are important.” she worked with the Glacier Antique Heritage Club for a long time, helping them protect, restore and display old farming machinery in the Comox Valley to help teach future generations about history.
She also volunteered with the IWC for a long time, which is one of the roles she is most proud of and thinks was the most important.
“I really enjoyed it,” she says. “It really made me aware of the problems that we have in getting people here – all the red tape and everything involved – and how every government’s little whim changes so much.
“We’re all immigrants here in some form, when you think about it,” she continues. “I also think the more diverse the community is, the more you can teach people that people can get along. It doesn’t matter if we share everything; tollerance is everything. It really makes me angry when people paint everyone with the same brush, because you could do that with any ethnic group. I mean, Robert Pickton was white, wasn’t he.”
So what’s next for Walker?
Well, she thinks she’d like to do some work with the senior population.
“One of the things I learned from my time at the IWC was that people from other countries really take care of their own when they get older. I mean, not everyone necessarily has to go to an old-folks home. Some do, sure, but there are a lot of cultures that say, ‘you take care of your folks,’ and I’d love to see it go back that way here. I think people being at home longer is good for them and it teaches the grandkids about compassion and history and respect.”
She’s also interested in helping make public transit work for people.
“We need to recognize what transit is supposed to be there for,” she says. “It’s not just to get people to work and back, it’s to get people around their community. If the goal is to get vehicles off the road, then you need to put transit where it’s easy for people to get it. Even if it rides half empty sometimes until people understand that it’s there and its convenient, that’s what has to happen. If you’re opening a new business, people don’t necessarily flock to that new business. It takes time for people to get to know it before it starts doing well, and I don’t see transit as really being anything different than that.”
And while she’s working on whatever it is she decides to take on next, she’d like to see everyone else help out around them in some way, as well.
“You can live in a community, but to truly be part of a community, you have to take part. It doesn’t matter what it is. Whether it’s picking up garbage off the beach or volunteering with kids or the elderly or whatever. We all need to do our part to make this world work better.
“I realize it’s difficult for people who have children in school and they’re working full-time or have a business, but I think that once people do a little bit of volunteering, they realize that it’s one of the best things they can do. It really is. There are plenty of causes that could use some help.
And every time you volunteer to improve the community, well, that helps you, too, doesn’t it?
“Don’t you live in the community?”