Two individuals sitting together, viewing a smartphone.

Connecting Canadians

How a smartphone helps newcomers find meaningful connection

Jan 21, 2024

Kevine Langou arrived in Joliette, QC 18 months ago after seven years living in a refugee camp in Cameroon. Since then, the 23-year-old native of the Central African Republic has been busy adapting to a new country, a new culture and a new social circle. As he builds a new life, Langou’s smartphone has proven to be an indispensable companion.

Since arriving in Quebec in 2022 with his mother and two younger brothers, Langou carries his phone everywhere he goes. It’s an essential tool for establishing a new network of contacts, while also staying in touch with friends and family back in the Central African Republic and Cameroon.

Like many newcomers, Langou has faced many hurdles as he adapts to a new country: access to housing and credit, obtaining official documents, searching for a new job and pursuing studies. Fortunately, access to mobile connectivity wasn’t one of his concerns. Through the TELUS Mobility for Good® program for government-assisted refugees, Langou can build his life in Quebec with help from a free mobile device and a low-cost plan.

“I have access to my emails, and I can communicate with people all over the world. My phone is really useful for my studies and for (internet) searches,” explains the young student, who is currently enrolled in an adult education program at the Centre de formation de L’Envol in Joliette.

Langou’s phone is also an essential time management tool. “I use the alarm a lot. I can reach my goals with my studies and assess my performance.” With the calendar app, he never forgets an appointment, and the navigation app on his phone helps him to find his way around in his new environment. And like many Gen Zers around the world, Langou also likes taking photos with his phone, sharing them with his friends and family, near and far.

Kevine Langou captures a “selfie” using his TELUS Mobility for Good program phone, connecting him with his family overseas.

Finding support through connection

Langou received his smartphone through the Lanaudière Regional Education Committee for International Development (CRÉDIL), a Joliette-based organization that welcomes new immigrants to the region, helping them establish their new lives and integrate into local communities. Since the program was launched in Quebec in 2022, CRÉDIL has collaborated with TELUS to ensure that government-assisted refugees who have recently arrived in the province can access the resources they need to succeed.

Nationwide, the TELUS program has provided support to over 3,600 refugees through partnerships with 15 different local resettlement agencies and organizations who support newcomers, including CRÉDIL. It’s part of TELUS’ broader social commitment to drive meaningful change.

The opportunity to offer newcomers an easy way to stay connected is appreciated by TELUS’ partner network.

“People arrive here, and two days later, they get their phone. They can quickly communicate with their friends and family, which clears up a lot of concerns. Having a phone also helps them to develop a social network here. New arrivals may be experiencing real emergencies in their early days here. Some are dealing with anxiety after being uprooted from their previous lives. Even a quick check-in on the phone can have a positive impact. It’s essential for them to be able to connect quickly with their contacts.” says Sylvain Thibault, Immigration Program Director at CRÉDIL.

According to the UN, 29% of refugee households have no phone at all, and those who do are 50% less likely than the general population to have a phone with an internet connection.

Unfamiliarity with mobile data can also contribute to the culture shock experienced by newcomers – adding to the importance of digital literacy in Canada, says Louis James, a refugee resettlement worker with the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society (CVIMS) in BC, and partner agency with TELUS Mobility for Good in the province.

“If you don’t speak the local language, sometimes you can still figure stuff out. But if you don’t have the means to scan a QR code on your phone or ability to send an email, that’s a huge barrier for clients of all ages,” James says.

“We don’t think about how technologically integrated we are as a country, and just how necessary it is to have an email to do simple things like pay online,” says James.

That’s why James appreciates that his clients can not only take advantage of TELUS Mobility for Good, but also access free TELUS Wise® digital literacy and safety workshops and resources. The program – especially TELUS Wise online basics – can help newcomers become more comfortable with using their new devices.

“Mobility for Good is a great program that provides an easy stepping stone. It takes us five minutes, not even, to order for a person, and it comes in a predictable amount of time. It gives our clients stability to be able to get themselves on their feet, find community and be able to put a phone number on their resume when they’re doing job applications – and all of those things make a huge difference,” James says.

Paying it forward

For Langou, one of his challenges – which he sees as more of a goal – is to make new friends in Quebec.

“It’s hard,” he says of the experience breaking through to a new social group. “But I’m confident I can do it. CRÉDIL offers lots of different activities, and having a smartphone helps me make connections.”

Langou is already branching out and actively meeting new people as an active volunteer. His own experiences integrating into Canadian life have inspired him to work with other newcomers after completing his studies.

“I’d like to work for an organization like CRÉDIL. They helped my family to get the documents we needed to stay here in Canada. They’ve also helped us to find a house, get established here and integrate with the community. I want to pay it forward to others, too.”

Learn more about the TELUS Mobility for Good program