How a Chance Encounter Led a Sydney Couple to Become “Canadian parents” to Former CBU International Students

Betty MacDonald and Billy Vanchuk have been volunteering at Loaves and Fishes in Sydney for several years. In 2019, the couple noticed three new volunteers during their shift. Saramgi Sajeev (Sam), Aiswarya Sajeevan (Ash) and Ashmi Mary Matthew were students from India studying at CBU who decided to volunteer with the organization during their time outside the classroom. After introducing themselves to the newcomers, Betty and Billy discovered that the women had just arrived in Canada and were still settling in. It was evident to Betty and Billy that the newcomers were a bit overwhelmed in their new surroundings, so after feeling an instant connection with the students, they decided to offer their help to make Sam, Ash and Ashmi feel at home in Cape Breton.

The couple quickly befriended the girls and often picked them up to shop for groceries together. Ashmi lived in an apartment with several other girls and found it difficult to study, so, after learning this, Betty and Billy would pick her up and take her to their quiet home where she could spend time studying in peace.

A strong bond developed as Betty and Billy took the girls under their wing. “We would pick them up when they had free time and take them around to drop off resumes. We enjoyed the time as much as they did because they were always so appreciative, eager and happy,” says Betty. “We also got to spend their first Canadian Halloween together and went to Hanks Farm to get pumpkins. It was so much fun watching their childlike wonder seeing all the decorations, carving pumpkins and seeing all the kids’ costumes at the door.”

From Halloween to Christmas, every occasion became extra special as the girls experienced this new Canadian culture. During this time, Sam’s husband, Smitty, was still at home in India and would FaceTime with Sam, Betty and Billy. “It was clear that he was so happy seeing his wife having such a wonderful time in Cape Breton,” says Betty. “The girls even refer to us as their Canadian parents, and their parents back home in India are relieved to know we’re here to help with anything they need.”

“Billy, Betty and the family will always have a special place in my heart,” says Ashmi. “Sometimes I just can’t put into words how much I appreciate them and how grateful I am to have them as my family.”

After graduating and becoming CBU Alumni, Sam, Ash and Ashmi still keep in touch with Betty and Billy, excitedly sharing their progress and new adventures with the couple. Ashmi has taken a job with Irving in Moncton, Ash moved to Whycocomagh and is working full-time and Sam works full-time as a bookkeeper at Keltic Group.

Sam’s husband, Smitty, has finally joined her in Sydney, and the pair are now considering expanding their family. Betty and Billy can’t wait to become Canadian grandparents!

“We enjoy every encounter we have with the girls,” says Betty. “These three amazing women have opened our eyes to other cultures and shared stories of a land so far away. We’ve been blessed to have them in our lives.”

Sam has some very special words for her Canadian parents. “I am so blessed to have you in my life. You were there for me through all my ups and downs,” she says. “You treated us like a family and being a family means you’re a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life. You (Betty and Billy) are one of the best things to happen in our life, and me and Smitty are so blessed and thankful.”

Betty and Billy encourage international students attending CBU to reach out to the community and ask questions, become involved and share their experiences. “Like myself and Billy, there are lots of people looking to welcome you into their lives,” says Betty.