Catholic Centre for Immigrants – Ottawa
The Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI Ottawa) promotes and facilitates the reception of immigrants and refugees to Ottawa, and sensitizes the community to address newcomers’ needs and invites it to respond. CCI Ottawa assists newcomers in realizing their full potential in Canadian society.
CCI’s Career Transitions program helps internationally trained medical doctors and other health professionals join the Canadian workforce. Some will find alternative careers in the health care field, working in research, community health, academics or the private sector. Others will gain entry into residency – a necessary stepping stone to practicing medicine in Canada.
Thanks to the support of the Career Transitions program, Anas Wess, a Syrian newcomer and CCI Volunteer accomplished exactly that. His dream was to gain a surgical residency spot in Canada and in April this year he received what he called, “the greatest news of my life!”
Anas was selected to join the General Surgery Residency Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, which when completed will allow him to practice as a surgeon in Canada. “I am so happy and excited to start the next chapter of my life as a resident,” said Anas. “Today, my dream comes true. I hope it inspires a lot of people who are in need. ”
What Anas accomplished is no small feat.
For doctors trained outside of Canada, there are many difficult hurdles they have to leap before getting residency in Canada. First, they need to pass demanding exams and complete applications to the schools of their choice. If they’re lucky, they’re selected for an interview and if they nail that, they may be one of the very few international medical graduates selected for residency in Canada each year.
CCI has had successful Bridging programs for internationally trained professionals for years. Since 2007, the Career Transitions program has helped more than 537 of its clients find paid employment, 519 have been accepted for continuing education or volunteering roles, 71 have been licensed and more than 30 international medical graduates have gained a residency spot in Canada.
According to Anas, “I knew there were only a few residency spots for international medical graduates in Canada, especially for general surgery. I joined the Career Transitions program because I knew it would give me more confidence. They helped me so much, providing feedback in practice residency interviews and assisting me to prepare all the application documents. I am really grateful.”
Anas plans to drive to Winnipeg so that he can see parts of Ontario he’s never seen before, and will begin his residency program on June 1. Congratulations Anas!
In a big bright room on a Saturday morning, a group of adults and children are standing in a circle, breathing to a count of five… “Inhale….hold… exhale….” Some are recent immigrants and refugees, some are volunteers, and all of them are warming up, getting ready to sing together. Leading the group is Alicia Borisonik, music educator and musician; two translators relay her instructions into Arabic. With younger children doing crafts off to the side of the room, under the supervision of volunteers, parents and older children say their names while using their hands to make a rhythmic signature. Later, everyone closes their eyes and sings tones, creating wordless music that rings out through the high-ceilinged room.
After the warm ups, participants run through some old favourites in new ways. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is sung with a twist: only one word is sung per person around the circle. There is a lot of laughter, and it becomes clear who has learned and can enunciate specific words of the song. Later, “This Land is Your Land” turns into a Canadian geography lesson, as the group discusses lyrics referring to Bonavista and the Arctic Circle.
The seven-week program is a partnership between the Community Connections program of CCI and the organization “World Folk Music Ottawa.” The group meets every Saturday morning at the former Ottawa Technical High School in Centretown. Between 30 and 50 people, adults and children, participate in the program. The goal is to give space for new immigrants, especially the recently arrived Syrian families, to have fun, meet other people, and work on their English skills by learning songs. Lunch is included, extending the social opportunities for the participants.
Alicia says she’s been surprised by the interest shown by the young teens in the group, who like to sing and take part in the games. “I see the happiness of the people,” she says. “After going through so many difficult circumstances in their lives, for a little while they have a moment of happiness. So it works!” She hopes to secure funding to allow the program to be run again.
World Folk Music Ottawa
Imagine answering a knock on the door of your new apartment, and finding two people in uniform waiting to speak to you. You might think you’re in trouble… unless you recognize that the uniformed officers are Ottawa firefighters, going door to door with their “Wake Up Program,” making sure people have working smoke and CO alarms.
Helping newcomers understand Ottawa’s emergency services and providing information on safety issues is the goal of the Tri-Services workshop for refugees. Ottawa Fire Services already gives fire safety presentations, and wanted newcomers to know about Ontario fire safety regulations. Together with Ottawa Police Services and the Paramedics, they created the Tri-Service workshop. It includes basic fire safety, such as kitchen safety, smoking, escape planning, the Wake Up program, and how to ask for a translator when calling 911. The workshop also covers when it’s appropriate to call 911 (so as not to be charged for the service), and what to expect from various emergency responders. It also deals with personal safety information and cultural differences and expectations. About 350 people have been through the presentations to date, which have taken place at reception centres, and in gathering places in their new neighborhoods.
The program is delivered in Arabic. At a recent presentation in Ottawa’s east end, more than 20 Syrian refugees attended a workshop given by Arabic-speaking Ottawa Police Cst. Lila Shibley, assisted by Fire Prevention Officer Sue Jones, and Zina Muhsen, Case worker from the Catholic Centre for Immigrants. The workshop provided a forum for lively discussion on a wide range of topics, including how to discipline teens, what to do with the fire alarm goes off in your building, where smoking is allowed, what issues might lead to immigration difficulties, and what gear children should be wearing when they’re on bicycles.
At the end of the sessions participants receive bags with kitchen items, toys such as model ambulances and colouring books, and printed materials including a fire escape plan translated into Arabic. Other Arabic language material includes a Home Safety Checklist, information on medical emergencies and information about CHEO.
Fire Prevention Officer Sue Jones has been impressed by the warm reception from adults and children alike, and noted “the level of kindness and openness from people who have been through such traumatic and likely very painful experiences.” People are the same everywhere, she notes. “They/we just want to feel safe, secure, and welcome.”
The Catholic Centre for Immigrants, (CCI) as the receiving agency in Ottawa for all Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), has received, welcomed, and housed 1109 Syrian GARs since December 29, 2015.
I am so proud of our staff who have lived through the excitement, the pleasure and the pain involved in dealing with this many people in such a short time.
We have housed them in 4 locations: our 96 bed Hostel, Maison Sophia House on Boteler Street; and at three hotels, The Radisson, The Travel Lodge West and The Embassy Suites. The average length of stay in these reception centres has been 25 days. While they are staying with us, we provide them with an orientation to life in Canada, such as how to get important documents, budgeting, dealing with the health system, registering kids in school, and housing options.
Refugees are eager to begin building their new lives. Thanks to the generous help of landlords and so many people compassionate in our community, we have already found housing for 721 people. In other words, two thirds of these newcomers are already in their permanent homes. Ottawans from all walks of life have played key roles in making them feel welcome, helping us to move so many so quickly, and in helping them to integrate into their new communities. We will also continue supporting them through our settlement services, matching program, and community connections program.
Since December our pastoral and sponsorship program staff has met with 21 groups from across the city. In partnership with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese – a Sponsorship Agreement Holder – we now have 20 completed applications for 64 people being processed. And we are working on another 38 applications for an additional 133 people.
Also since December, we have held ten information sessions attended by 286 people on how to privately sponsor refugees. The CCI Sponsorship Coordinator has trained and helped 56 sponsor groups to prepare sponsorship applications. Half of these applications (28) were successfully submitted to the Case Processing Center in Winnipeg. The remaining 28 applications are being finalized.
In addition we have been asked to help recruit sponsors by many families who live here and who have relatives who are refugees somewhere in the world. Typically these families cannot afford to sponsor by themselves and are looking for volunteer sponsors. Through this process we have identified 60 refugees who have family here who need help finding sponsors.
We have also recruited 250 volunteers for our ‘circle of friends’ (for refugees) program.
Many people and organizations have gone beyond the call of duty to help us accomplish all of the above and we cannot thank them enough. In a separate story I will tell you more about their contributions but today I want you to know that many of our staff have worked night and day for weeks on end to provide a safe landing for our newest neighbors. On behalf of all of us I want them to know that we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
Executive Director, CCI Ottawa