CultureLink Executive Director Ibrahim Absiye was profiled in a full-page interview by North America Weekly Times (北美时报), a very popular Chinese community newspaper on Friday, Jan.18. You can read the article in this pdf file Ibrahim Absiye Interview .
The article has also been reproduced by a Chinese website ( 51.ca) , which is No.1 and the most widely influential in Canada. This is the link to the article on 51.ca http://info.51.ca/news/canada/2013/01/20/283120.shtml
When Celine Hu arrived in Toronto 18 months ago with her husband and toddler, she left behind a successful career in Shanghai as a financial analyst. But everywhere she looked for a job she heard the same refrain: “Sorry, you have no Canadian work experience.”
It was the classic newcomer dilemma. She needed experience here to get a job, and she needed a job to get experience here. She also needed daycare for her 2-year-old daughter so she could look for work, but she needed work to pay for the daycare. Her husband’s income was not stable, and it would take two salaries to start building a life in their new country.
Then Hu spotted a poster for CultureLink at her local library in Scarborough. The non-profit is devoted to helping newcomers find work, friends and connections in their communities through an assortment of free programs.
“I wanted to improve my English and understand the culture here,” says Hu, 34. “I went to the website and registered.”
A year later, Hu is in the middle of a 14-month full-time contract with a leading Canadian company. She has a network of professional contacts and friends. And she was recently one of the final three candidates after an extensive interview process for a lucrative position at one of Canada’s big banks.
She didn’t get that job, which went to an internal candidate. But the process was great experience, boosted her confidence and left her feeling optimistic.
She credits CultureLink with getting her started.
“It opened the door for me so I have the chance to express myself and to show myself.”
Finding a job is one of myriad challenges faced by newcomers to Canada. They tackle language barriers, adapting to a new different culture and navigating new school systems and workplaces. For the past 24 years, CultureLink’s staff of 50 and roster of almost 500 active volunteers have provided classes, formed networks and acted as mentors to make the transition easier.
“We’re a small United Nations,” says executive director Ibrahim Abiyse. “We do nothing else but welcome newcomers every day.”
It’s one of 148 agencies supported by the United Way in Toronto and relies on the charitable organization for core funding to run programs that make such a difference for many immigrant families.
CultureLink’s flagship programs match newcomers with trained mentors in high schools, local communities and the working world. Many mentors are themselves recent immigrants, so they understand the challenges firsthand. A healthy number are volunteers eager to give back to an agency that once helped them.
A poster in the lobby of CultureLink’s office in Toronto’s west end proclaims “Welcome” in 62 languages. Staff provides service in 32 of those languages for roughly 16,000 newcomers each year from 165 countries.
In the process, countless lasting friendships are formed, says Abiyse.
Hu’s experience is a case in point. She is still in touch with other newcomers and four mentors from her first CultureLink experience, a 10-week citizenship learning course.
During weekly sessions at a public library, the mentors shared their stories of coming to Toronto “to let us know we are not abnormal,” Hu recalls. The group read aloud to practise their English, learned Canadian history and geography and held a simulated election.
Sometimes Joy, now 3, accompanied her mother on the hour-long subway ride and sat at her side thumbing through storybooks and colouring during the meetings.
That first program led to another in career mentoring, in which Hu connected with a Toronto executive and three others trying to break into the financial world. They met twice a month to practise presentation skills, share tips and soon set up an online group to post job openings and articles.
Last November she landed a 14-month contract at Sealy Canada filling in for someone on leave. This spring a half-day session sponsored by CultureLink gave 75 Hu newcomers in the financial field including Hu a chance to talk one on one with 50 TD Bank vice-presidents. That event, one of a number the agency holds each year, helped her make it to the final cut for a coveted financial job and built a circle of promising contacts.
Hu’s gratitude is expressed in ways beyond words. After a long day at work, she has travelled from the other end of the city one evening to share her story, with husband Howen Li and Joy in tow.
As they arrive, Joy beams and runs towards the friendly faces she knows from the family’s regular visits. While her mother talks about coming to Canada to give Joy a good education, the little girl sings the ABC song and shows off the French phrases she has already mastered.
Hu is already starting to pass along what she has learned from CultureLink, hoping to join the public speaking roster to encourage other newcomers and one day become a mentor herself.
Her husband, who works part-time for a company that’s winding down operations and recently got his real estate licence, is confident the practice and skills his wife has developed will soon pay off with the right opportunity.
“If she keeps moving forward, it will,” Li says.
In this CityTV story, learn how local newcomer teens from eleven countries were joined by First Nations youth from Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), British Columbia in a tree-planting excursion to Rouge Park on April 25. The Haida teens visited Toronto as part of an exchange program organized by CultureLink and supported by YWCA Youth Exchanges Canada. The newcomer youth will visit Haida Gwaii from June 25 to July 2.
The tree-planting event was part of Camp Suzuki in the Rouge, an innovative leadership program of the David Suzuki Foundation in support of the establishment of Canada’s first urban National Park in the Rouge. The teens learned about the Rouge, and about how Haida Gwaii has become a globally recognized example of how to protect nature for future generations. Trees and support were provided Friends of the Rouge Watershed, winner of a 2012 Green Toronto Award.
Watch the City TV feature story here.
Please find here a succinct testimonial of how our services have impacted our youth.
Bike Host is a mentorship program which matches newcomers who are open to cycling, with volunteers who are confident cyclists and who are committed to creating a welcoming city. The program is offered by CultureLink in partnership with the Toronto Cyclists Union and received a lot of positive media coverage in the past week. Newcomers can register online for our next matching session on May 19. Check out these stories:
April 23, Toronto Star and Metro: “Newcomers to Toronto connect to the city on two wheels”
April 20, CBC’s “Here and Now”: Discovering the city – with a little help from some friends
April 17, Sing Tao (biggest Chinese newspaper in Canada):