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Canada’s immigration intake remains the highest per capita in the world

The UpBeat: Canadian immigration stories, from the heartwarming to the harrowing

Published on: June 26, 2015 | Last Updated: June 26, 2015 9:40 PM EDT

Marie Claude Chabrol, Asha Mohamed Siad, Basile Cilenge and Kuer Say Ler have unique immigration stories to tell. PHOTO PROVIDED / CALDWELL FAMILY CENTRE

Ann Winters

Being Canadian … how fortunate we are. This year, in welcoming approximately 285,000 new permanent residents, Canada’s immigration intake remains the highest per capita in the world. Of that number, roughly 12,000 people will come to Ottawa.

Immigration is a huge adjustment, with the first five or 10 years after arrival the most difficult. The challenges are many but every first generation of immigrants is building the foundation for the future – both for themselves and Canada.

The Caldwell Family Centre in the Carlington area is helping with that foundation. Its ESL (English as a Second Language) and LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) are just two of the building blocks. Others such as “Caring for Newcomer Children”, immigrant settlement outreach, Clothing Depot and housing support offer those entering the Caldwell community the sense of belonging. Caldwell puts it succinctly: for people, with people.

Everyone has a story. The Caldwell newcomers have experienced journeys to Canada ranging from heartwarming to harrowing. Take Marie Claude Chabrol from Paris as the heartwarming example. Immigrating to Canada in her early 70s, Marie is the picture of contentment. Now settled with her Canadian two grandchildren, she muses that “the centre of Ottawa is like the town square where people gather and enjoy their lives. People here are so good. They think of others and not only of themselves.”

Basile Cilenge from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with his wife and four sons, left a country with no jobs, no security, crippling inflation and a substandard education system. For Basile, education is critical. As a college graduate in electronic engineering, he is strengthening his job skills for the Canadian market, taking diploma courses in technology and business administration. It is a point of honour for him that he has worked since arriving in Canada, currently as a custodian in a Kanata school. “In the Congo, you would work and not get paid. Here in Canada, you work and two weeks later you have your paycheque.”

Kuer Say Ler, a Karen from Burma, was eight years old when she entered a refugee camp in Thailand. Her village had been destroyed by the army, or, as she says, “The army came, burned everything, killed people and left.” The camp became her home. “I grew up in the camp. You couldn’t leave the camp because they would put you in jail.” It’s her children and their futures that guide Kuer Say’s integration into Canadian life. Education is a priority. “My English is better now but it could be better again.” With her LINC classes, “better again” is in her near future.

If Marie is the heartwarming, then Asha Mohamed Siad from Somalia has lived the harrowing. Growing up in a civil war taught her life lessons that few Canadians could imagine. “My children are very happy in Canada,” she said, smiling. “They don’t hear gunshots at night.” Her hopes for her three children revolve around a good education. “I couldn’t go to school because of the war. I want my children to live in a free country where you can learn.” Asha sees a future without gun battles — like the one that she had to walk through to reach a midwife while in labour with her third child.

After completing their LINC studies, the four are committed to saving money for the citizenship application fee. That in itself is a huge commitment. In Basile’s case, with a family of six, the financial cost of citizenship would be $3,180. And then there’s the test. Do you know the name of Canada’s highest mountain? Or who was Sir Samuel Steele? They are just two sample test questions on the Canadian citizenship exam.

Sometimes we become complacent about our country. Good, old, reliable Canada, our home and native land. Sometimes we need to hear from newcomers to shake that indifference. Freedom is a rare commodity in much of the world. With Canada Day approaching, it is a lesson we should remember from newcomers to our shores.

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