Mohammad

Mohammad is someone with a clear idea of who he is, where he’s been, what he still wants to achieve, and most importantly, what matters most in life. At GGP, we work with people often still in the process of figuring these things out. It is important to recognize that there are mentors, leaders, and teachers like Mohammad with an incredible depth of wisdom and knowledge to share.  

When Mohammad came to Saskatoon five months ago, it was not his first visit to Canada. He first came here in 1974 as a student—studying English in Montreal, of all places. He worked on a Master’s degree in Nuclear Physics at the University of Calgary before transferring to the University of Saskatchewan to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. During this time, he married and celebrated the birth of his first son.

Mohammad returned to his home country of Iran in 1979, where he lived and worked for the next thirty-three years. He held several managerial and board positions and also started his own successful trade company. He said that although he had a good life in Iran, he hopes to build a better life here, especially for his children.

Mohammad said he loves Canada and he loves Saskatoon. He appreciates everything that he has gained from participating in GGP’s programs. He has attended many programs and classes: Coffee and Conversation; Family, Fun, and Fit; Drop-In Information sessions; Driving Theory; Computer classes; First Aid & CPR; and, of course, English classes.   Eventually, he would like to start a business here, but first, he wants to learn everything he can about Canadian culture and the way things are done here. Global Gathering Place has given him many opportunities to develop this understanding.

“Canadian people,” he said, “are good.” He said they are hospitable and kind and can enjoy life in a country with very little racism. His experience is that success here depends on the individual—on the time, work, and effort he or she is willing to invest. He said that there are equal opportunities and plenty of resources, and it’s up to you to decide what you want to do.

Mohammad wants to work. He’s been job hunting for a few months now, and when he started out, he lacked the skills, knowledge, and confidence in his English ability that he needed to land a suitable position. The programs he’s attended have helped enormously, and finally, last week, he was given his chance. He was selected for a position and will soon be travelling to Calgary to complete training. It’s very important to him that he not sit at home while life passes by. He wants to be an active and contributing member of society.  “It’s not about the money,” he explained, “I want to be useful to society. I want to help, not to get help.”

He wishes, though, that this process were easier and expresses regret at how many high-level specialists are forced into taking entry-level and survival jobs. It’s disappointing to see physicians, scientists, and engineers working a checkout lane.  If only Canadians were able to recognize how much profit there is to be gained from tapping into skills that newcomers bring.   “Canada must use us. We have so much experience and so much to offer.”

In the meantime, Mohammad looks forward to beginning his new job and waits for the day that his family is reunited. His wife returned to Tehran after only two and a half months in Saskatoon. She went back to be with their daughter while she completes her thesis. They’re both due back in Canada in December and the months until then can’t slip by quickly enough. In thirty-eight years of marriage, this is the first time and the longest time that Mohammad’s been alone.

Good luck, Mohammad. Canada is fortunate to have you.

Elsadig

Speaking with Elsadig, a Sudanese refugee, was an amazing and humbling experience. He has been a refugee for the past twenty-three years—most of his life. In Libya, he attended university and worked as a petroleum engineer until the 2011 Libyan civil war prompted him to take flight once again. Alongside thousands of other refugees, he made his way over the border into Tunisia and to the hastily erected Shousha camp.

Shousha camp grew from necessity and was made possible through a wide collaboration of organizations including the Tunisian government, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, and many more. Situated just across the border from Libya, it was designed to be a transitional camp for the large number of persons displaced by the violence there. People from more than twenty-five different nationalities lived in extremely close contact and the movement of camp residents was restricted. The camp was located in the middle of a desert, subject to intense heat and frequent sand storms. It was a breeding ground for tension and conflict.

Elsadig, however, spoke only of the positive aspects of the camp. He focussed on the fact that it provided some measure of security in a very dangerous time. He described it as one of the most privileged refugee camps in the world, explaining how there was running water, central kitchens, and tents for every three or so residents. Elsadig had a central role in the camp, first as a community leader for the Sudanese population and then as a representative of all camp residents. He counselled people on how to avoid conflict and to be on their best behaviour in order to bring respect to their countries. He also organized work crews to keep common areas clean, and in coordination with the UNHCR, gathered residents’ vital information, scheduled interviews, and acted as an interpreter.   

Shousha was unique in that it was a transitional camp, with the goal to create a resettlement plan for every single resident. Many countries were involved, each offering to resettle a certain number of refugees. As community leader, Elsadig was one of the last to be assigned a country. Refugees do not choose their country of resettlement, it is assigned to them. Elsadig expected that he would go to the United States, a country that took in many people. However, very late in the process, Canada agreed to accept twenty-eight refugees. Elsadig and two of his Sudanese friends were among those twenty-eight. Elsadig was very glad to come here; he said everyone wishes to come to Canada.

Elsadig and his two friends arrived in Saskatoon at the end of November, 2012 and now share an apartment. Winter is the only Canadian season he’s experienced—and what a cold and snowy winter it’s been! He said that the snow was the most amazing thing. In photographs and on television, he’d seen children building snowmen and throwing snowballs and he expected the snow to be hard. He was astonished by how soft the snow was; he tried to make a snow ball, but it was impossible. After having lived only in hot countries, he had been worried about coming to the cold. He’s now survived a winter and has managed just fine. He says that the warmth and friendliness of Canadians compensates for the cold.

He loves that Canada is safe and says that Global Gathering Place has provided many opportunities for newcomers like him to make close contact with Canadians. He participates in every program that he can. He finds people here to be kind, generous, and respectful. As an example, Esladig spoke of driving. He’s used to places where people drive wherever and however they wish. Things like stop signs, red lights, pedestrian crossings aren’t respected and he was too afraid to drive in the city in Libya for this reason.  He looks forward to obtaining his driver’s licence here because Saskatoon drivers seem to respect each other and the rules of the road.

Most of Elsadig’s life was spent in Libya, where it was impossible to organize his life as he wished because of government restrictions. He had dreamed of making the journey to Canada, but there was no Canadian embassy in Libya and as a Sudanese refugee, he couldn’t cross international borders. He wishes he’d had this opportunity as a younger man as he feels he arrived late to Canada.

He looks forward to someday becoming Canadian as this country’s democracy offers greater freedom. He knows that his next great challenge will be to get his credentials recognized. Hopefully, he will be then able to work in his field. No matter what happens, we are certain he will build a successful future for himself in Canada. Elsadig brings with him a lifetime of experience and a world of knowledge and Canada is fortunate to have him. Welcome!

Natalia

Natalia is originally from Russia. She and her family came to Saskatoon under the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program. Her husband, a cook at a nursing home, came first. Two and a half years after his arrival, Natalia and their children were able to join him. She spoke feelingly of that time of separation from her husband—it was a long time to be apart. Although they talked on Skype every day, it was hard and she began losing hope that she would ever make it to Canada. She had her hands full with two pre-school aged children, and she just wanted him there.

The day did eventually arrive. It was her first time on a plane, and she described how she and her two small children had to navigate their way onto three different planes in order to complete their journey. In spite of this, it was exciting and interesting and there was such joy and relief when she finally debarked in Saskatoon. Her husband was waiting there at the airport for her with a huge bouquet of roses.

She says that the hardest part of living here has been her lack of English. Striking up a conversation with people is difficult. When you first meet someone, or even when you know someone but they’re not a close friend, getting past “hi,” “hi” is the really hard part. She said that this is where Global Gathering Place has really helped out. She especially loves Coffee and Conversation for this reason—it’s an opportunity to not only meet many new people, but also to talk to them and form friendships. She explained that she had studied English before, back in Russia, but it was as if her ears weren’t open and it feels like she didn’t learn anything. She attends every program that she can at GGP, and is really learning now. Her ears are open.

Natalia likes how friendly people are in Saskatoon. Even with so many immigrants arriving every day, Saskatonians continue to be welcoming. She told a story about getting lost downtown in her first weeks here. She was driving at the time and got to her destination without any problem. However, when it came time to leave, she couldn’t remember which way to go. She drove around and around but nothing seemed familiar. Finally, she stopped at a gas station and asked for help. The employee there was understanding and helpful and quickly got her back on the right route. What a relief!

Natalia dreams of becoming a professional photographer. She currently has a small studio in her apartment and she’s looked into the possibility of enrolling in a full-time photography course. The cost, however, is prohibitive at $6,000 for a six-month course! Because it’s so much money, she thinks that she will try to learn on her own and practice with the people, places, and things she sees around her. That kind of money might be better spent on so many things, like maybe as part of a down payment on a house. Currently, they are four sharing a two bedroom apartment. Natalia’s mother plans on visiting in the summer and it would be so nice if they had something more comfortable than their living room couch to offer her.  

In the meantime, they make do just fine. Their apartment is in a nice location in the city and their windows look out onto trees. Natalia’s hobby is bird watching and she loves photographing the birds she sees there. She has hung bird feeders from the branches to attract as many kinds as possible. Their cheerful songs and happy energy revitalize her.  

Life is good. Natalia always wanted to be here in Canada and can’t wait to explore every province. So far, she’s been to Jasper in Alberta, all over Saskatchewan, and to Toronto to visit her sister. Her plate is full with activities, hobbies, a job, and family to keep her busy and she says that she loves everything here. She loves studying English, she loves that it’s a small city, and she feels at home, as if she’s lived here all her life.

Welcome to Canada, Natalia, we wish you all the best!

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