‘The Library is My Happy Place’: Henry Bastidas’ Story

Four years ago, Henry Bastidas left his home in Venezuela and moved to Canada. Henry sought a safer place; he lived near the capital city Caracas, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

An engineer in Venezuela, Henry arrived in Calgary speaking only Spanish. He soon started an ESL program at the University of Calgary, where a friend recommended he also attend drop-in ESL classes at the Calgary Public Library. Eager to improve his English, he decided to check out the free newcomer programs.

That little tip from a friend spurred Henry to get a Library card, instantly connecting him to his new city. “Back home, we don’t have libraries like this. There, a library is just storage for books,” Henry says. “Here, I love how dynamic the libraries are, all the activities they do. People are engaged and involved and I think that’s a very good thing.”

The ESL classes at the Library helped Henry gain confidence speaking English. Next, he tried out other free Library programs, including small business programs to work on his resumé and LinkedIn profile and technology programs to learn Excel and PowerPoint.

Giving Back

In early 2015, less than a year after arriving in Canada, Henry applied to volunteer at Calgary Public Library. “The Library helped me a lot,” Henry says. “After I finished my courses, I decided to try to give back to this community that now I call home.”

Henry began volunteering for kids’ math and coding programs, first at Central Library. “I just wanted to try and help kids a little bit with the things I know, like math,” he says. The experience helped him land his first job in Canada; with no work history here, he says the volunteer gig on his resumé was crucial.

As Henry has moved throughout Calgary, he’s continued to volunteer at the Library closest to him, including Forest Lawn, Village Square, Fish Creek, and Sage Hill libraries.

Today, Henry studies energy asset management at SAIT and works part-time. He continues to volunteer with Math Quest, helping students in Grades 1 to 6 use math to complete challenges throughout the Library. The after-school program makes numeracy fun — for the students, and for Henry.

Energizing Experience

“The kids get so excited every time they read a card and accomplish any of the quests,” he says. “I like how energetic they are. Every time I leave the Library, I feel like I did something good here. Instead of draining your energy, this gives you more energy.”

“Henry’s strong commitment to helping students learn is a real gift to our youth volunteers that he mentors and to the children participating in our programs,” says Muneerah Vasanji, Volunteer Resources Coordinator at Calgary Public Library. “Henry stands out for his solid work ethic, patience, dedication, and leadership. Henry genuinely cares about making a tangible difference in our community and we are so fortunate to have him as an integral part of our volunteer team.”

Henry had never volunteered before; it’s not really part of the norm in Venezuela, he says. “But here, I feel like it’s very important to do. Even though sometimes I have a very busy schedule, going to school and working, I always find when I make time to come volunteer I have fun.,” Henry says.

Henry continues to be a dedicated Library member, recommending free programs to others and taking time to look around and pick up a new book. “The Library is my happy place,” he says. “There is always something going on, and you can find everything you are into.”
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