Mapping out newcomers for a better future

Community News & Features Mar 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

By Rachelle Cruz

Cebuano poet and fictionist at Skills for Change

So where is Northumberland County? Here’s the regional context: It’s located south-eastern Ontario along HWY 401. Social context? So say you’re in Cobourg, smacked in the middle of an agricultural field with not much in sight, and suppose you’re a newcomer to Canada. How hard would it be to connect with people and settle right in? Well, it’s tough. That’s why Teodosia DinDin Villarino is putting Northumberland on the map.

As a Leader in Resident with Skills for Change, this published poet and fictionist in Cebuano-Visayan decided to form Northumberland Newcomers Welcome Circle.

DinDin Villarino

DinDin Villarino (Photos: Rachelle Cruz)

“I thought that the county is very small, compared to other – and we only have one settlement counselor so I saw that there was a lack of settlement services and programs like English classes and thought that we can connect to something bigger like Skills for Change. This is exactly what I wanted to do , a welcome circle where everybody can come. So it’s more inclusive, it’s not just for newcomers,” she confessed.

Villarino is one of the speakers at the Skills for Change International Women’s Day on March 5. The event’s theme was Inspiring Change: Building Futures through Leadership. Leaders in Residence act as ambassadors in the community while launching their projects, in offering services to women.

Villarino isn’t new to settling in, since she’s moved to Canada three times: The first round back in 1989 as an international student at Trent University where she took up Anthropology and Development Studies. Then she returned to the Philippines and taught there for five years. Fast-forward 2001, she returned the second time as a permanent resident and pursued her MA and doctorate at University of Toronto. In 2009, she left Canada again and worked in the Middle East with the British Council. And for the final round , she settled in 2012 where she found work at Northumberland County tasked to manage their immigration and immigration portal.

Villarino with staff and volunteers

Villarino with staff and volunteers

This Welcome Circle provides a social platform where long-term immigrants and newcomers can meet and share stories. Over a cup of coffee anyone? Or snow-shoeing to blast off these wintry dull months dragging us slowly forward into spring? Well, through these “inner circle” meetings, anyone can actually come and go, without obligations just to chat about settlement experiences, make new friends, and who knows down the road, connect you with a job?

“The inspiration comes from a personal level, I think I draw from my own experience. When I was an undergrad at Trent, I volunteered at this settlement agency looking after kids of immigrants while they are learning English. I was 19 at that time, I was changing diapers, giving them snacks, while their moms and dads had to learn English and I thought that this was a nice program. I think I’ve always had that consciousness,” she said.

“It could stem from a certain form of guilt,” she confessed, as she pondered.
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“I know the hardships of trying to get that job, but I can just feel how they are feeling. I can feel it even if I didn’t go through that because I’ve always had my education recognized,” she continued.

Surranna Sandy, executive director of Skills for Change says the problem with newcomers is the same old story, “They have to start again from the bottom.”

“By creating women circles, that are Filipino-oriented, then they can connect with peers and see other Filipino women themselves who are successful. But I think the most important piece is to find independent groups or networks that have been created that will be able to build relationships so they can get that job, get that referral and to build their confidence, to extend themselves outside their immediate family,” Sandy explained.

Sure there are many complex factors that are barriers for newcomers, like childcare services, finances, language, lack of network but that’s why Skills for Change deliver specialized programs and services to help newcomers become gainfully employed and transition them into a career. And once you’re successful, they only want one thing back,

“Our goal is to get people actively giving back through mentorship. It is one of the most effective ways that people get jobs because through a mentor, you get a connection, and you get that support,” Sandy explained.

*Fast facts:

• Each year, Skills for Change helps over 14,000 newcomers from the GTA, of that approx 50% are immigrant women.

• Language was the top cited barrier to leadership.

• 1,158 clients served by settlement services

• 9,645 clients registered with Skills for CHange

171 clients matched with a mentor

* (2012-2013- Annual Report)