Safe, affordable, and inclusive: A blueprint for community-centered housing in Regina

NATIONAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING CORPORATION
FEBRUARY 28, 2024

Creative Options Regina has helped the people they support to find housing for some years now, developing one-on-one relationships with landlords who offer discounts, and they’ve partnered with a group of 10 families who invested in building a condo building for their children that provides supportive living.

“We’re always looking for partnerships, especially ones that are safe and affordable,” says Jessica Fraser, Supportive Living Coordinator at COR. “But that can be tricky — if it’s affordable, it might not be in a safe location. The folks we serve are considered vulnerable.”

COR is a charitable organization that develops personalized support services for people experiencing disability. The organization supports people living in their own homes and helps individuals discover their talents and interests so they can live according to their values and reach their personal goals.

As of publishing their 2023 annual report, they had 30 people living in supported living and 58 people receiving home support. However, Fraser said their numbers and the need for safe and affordable housing have grown since then.

COR first connected with the National Affordable Housing Corporation while working with Inclusion Saskatchewan to help someone living in Regina find housing in Saskatoon. NAHC has been working with Inclusion Sask since 2020 to house people with intellectual disabilities.

So when NAHC had plans to build more townhouse rentals in Regina, connecting with COR again was a natural fit.

Fraser says the partnership with NAHC is unique because the rent is so affordable, and the buildings are brand new in an up-and-coming neighbourhood in the city.

“People are paying affordable rent that aligns with their SAID benefits, so that in itself is a success,” Fraser said.

Community-based

Fraser says the NAHC is a good fit for a partnership because it is “person-centred,” looking at the needs of the individual and asking how to make the community fit the person rather than how to make the person fit into the community.

“They’re really community-based,” Fraser said. “The renters aren’t segregated from the rest of the market rent folks; they get to be part of the community.”

Adina Wilson is the Director of Tenant Inclusion & Support at the NAHC and Real Life Rentals and agrees that creating a sense of community for program participants is critical to its success.

“They’re living in a regular community where they’re accepted, valued and seen as regular neighbours, just like other people in the complex,” Wilson said. “That helps them build self-esteem and helps them feel valued and empowered.”

She also says the program hasn’t only benefited the individuals living there, it has also benefited the community.

“Successful programs like this demonstrate creative inclusivity that encourages understanding, develops better empathy and celebrates the positive contributions all can make; we’ve broken some of the stigmas down with our inclusive housing model,” Wilson said.

“It’s been nice to see community members in the different complexes treating everyone with so much kindness and acceptance.”

Neighbours have asked program participants to pet sit, or water plants and check a neighbour’s unit when they’re away.

“Those are huge things,” Wilson said. “When you have a community that you belong to and feel valued in, it’s really important. … It’s neat to watch that develop naturally and organically because we all need community and human connection.”

It’s also handy for multiple people from the COR community to be living in the same development  — several people COR supported who previously had never met took the opportunity to get to know each other when they moved in.

Building trust

Building solid relationships is vital when supporting vulnerable individuals with complex needs; many have stories of facing barriers or discrimination when it comes to finding housing.

“If they can learn to trust the people around them, it will create better opportunities and chances for success,” Wilson said. “When obstacles and challenges arise, they’ll be more forthcoming about letting us know.”

Wilson has regular communication with the tenants and Fraser at COR. Since Wilson works out of Saskatoon, she especially appreciates having COR staff on the ground with the tenants in Regina.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this in Regina without COR right there,” she said. “When you have a solid partner willing to work cooperatively, it’s very valuable.”

COR and NAHC work together if any issues arise, and Fraser with COR says she feels confident that if there’s a problem, they can figure out a solution together.

“We want this to work, and we want everyone to be successful in their housing,” Fraser said. “We want to say, this person is experiencing a challenge — how can we assist them?”

In one case, two roommates asked for assistance cleaning and organizing their home. The NAHC found a professional organizer to work with them for a few months and provide coaching to develop new cleaning habits and practical skills. After the work was complete, the tenants said they experienced a sense of accomplishment and commented that the help made their home environment more comfortable and enjoyable.

“Partnerships are really about people being able to collaborate and share their ideas and being heard,” Fraser said.

There are currently four units with eight COR clients living in them, and more units for COR will be available with the completion of Hawkstone Estates in late summer or early fall 2024.

“I would love to have more folks living in these homes,” Fraser said. “I would love for all the folks I support to have affordable housing as they expand in Regina.”

This Affordable & Supportive Independent Living- Sector Transformation Model for Individuals with Mental Health Challenges project received funding from the Community Housing Transformation Centre (the Centre); however, the views expressed are the author’s personal views, and the Centre accepts no responsibility for them.

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COR Stories: Michael Madugba’s journey to Canada and COR

Michael Madugba is from a family of five from the eastern part of Nigeria. Nigeria is an African country on the Gulf of Guinea well known for its many natural landmarks and wildlife reserves.

Michael shared that his parents prioritized education while they were growing up (because of their teaching and banking background). Following his first degree in Public Administration, he pursued a diploma course in Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom. During his practicum, Michael developed a keen interest in supporting vulnerable adults. He engaged in hands-on work with individuals with learning disabilities and dedicated his time as a volunteer mentor for those struggling with drug addiction. On his return to Nigeria, he worked with the government as a legislative aide before deciding to pursue a post-graduate degree with the University of Saskatchewan (UofS). His interest to come and pursue his education in Canada was greatly influenced by his friends and cousins who were already in Canada.

Michael shared that he arrived in Canada with a study permit, and upon completing his studies, he successfully applied for and received an open work permit. The application process for the study and work permit went smoothly. However, the application for the immigration of his family didn’t happen as smoothly as his. There was a significant delay in the visa processing for his family when they applied to join him in Canada.

Since moving to Canada, Michael shared that he has fostered meaningful relationships that have influenced his life. “I even have an adopted family in Saskatoon. My journey has been marked by memorable and positive encounters, contrary to the common fear of racism that newcomers face,” said Michael.

While attending the University of Saskatchewan, Michael developed a passion for working with vulnerable adults which prompted him to assume a part-time support worker position with Saskatchewan Alternative Initiative (SAI). Later that year, when he had to move from Saskatoon to Regina for a Co-op assignment with a government agency, SAI recommended him for a support role with COR, as both organizations share the same support philosophy of Gentle Teaching.

Following the conclusion of his co-op posting, Michael accepted a term position with the Government of Saskatchewan as a policy advisor. Despite his new responsibilities, he remains devoted to actively contributing to his team’s effort of fostering a wholesome, safe, and loving environment for the poeple he supports. “My interactions with the individuals, fellow team members, and the COR family have been incredibly positive,” mentioned Michael.

Asked about cultural shock in his country of adoption, Michael shared that a notable observation of him was the widespread popularity of camping in the country. It often surprises his Canadian friends that he has never gone camping before. “My adventurous and open-minded nature played a crucial role in my ability to adapt and integrate successfully. Additionally, my extensive international travel experience has fostered a genuine enthusiasm for meeting people, embracing diverse cultures, and understanding various perspectives” shared Michael.

Michael’s integration to life in Canada wasn’t challenging for him, as he had a comprehensive understanding of what to expect upon arrival. Prior to coming to Canada, his cousins and childhood friend shared their daily life experiences with him. Further, he completed an online course on Canadian people and culture, gaining valuable insights. “I was well-prepared for the weather, understanding that -35°C could be exceptionally cold, and I made sure to dress for the weather” shared Michael. However, the one unexpected piece of information he learned about Canada was the extent of the drug addiction challenges Canada faces, and this was a shock for him, considering Canada is a developed country with a high quality of life.

“After residing in Canada for three years, my expectations have been met and even exceeded. If given the opportunity to go back in time, would I choose Canada once more? Absolutely, YES!” said Michael. “My role as a Key Support Worker has evolved into an integral aspect of my daily life, as I consistently apply the principles of Gentle Teaching in my daily interactions and relationships. I would recommend COR to anyone, especially newcomers that are passionate about human services. Beyond the support you provide, the organization is dedicated to the well-being and personal development of its team members,” shared Michael.

Thank you, Michael, for choosing COR, we are grateful to have you as an integral part of our family and we are grateful for your contribution.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo

Gentle Teaching Stories: “I’ve spent time learning who my supports are and how they feel supported.”

As a brand-new team leader two years ago, I naïvely believed that I had a great enough understanding of Gentle Teaching. That I had reached some level of understanding that wouldn’t transform any further. I was incredibly wrong in that belief and having the past two years to learn about myself and lead my team, I see how vital Gentle Teaching is to a team culture.

I reflect often on power struggles and ego in regard to supporting and across team dynamics. I’ve been in situations that were unpleasant, where others were intentionally hurtful toward me, or toward others on the team. And it took me a long time to identify that these supports needed nurturing. When I began, it was very easy for my ego to step into the drivers seat, and for me to engage in power struggles over issues with my supports. I had a pretty good understanding of COR at the time, and a pretty good ability to read other people which equated to me being willing to go to the mat over a lot of truly miniscule things (hindsight is 20/20). However, I see how that wasn’t helpful. And now, when similar circumstances occur, I can find the space in myself to step back and view the issue from a greater perspective. I have learned to respond to people’s words, not tone. I have learned to seek deeper meaning in the concerns that are brought up. I have learned the importance of having difficult conversations.

I trust the people who are honest with me, about me, the most. And I foster that trust on my team through having that same expectation of myself, for them. I recognize people’s accomplishments – I thank people who have gone through difficult situations. I work hard on encouraging the team to celebrate each other, to find connection in each other, especially during and after tough moments. I work hard to set a good example – always using kind words, not engaging in negative speech about others and coming to the home with all my personal stuff checked at the door. I’ve spent time learning who my supports are and how they feel supported. I recognize that I have a lot more experience to learn and gain. Yet every interaction I have with my team, I can feel a practiced compassion come into how I greet them, what questions I ask and how I seek connection for them. My goal is to be a leader that no one is afraid of coming to, no one is afraid of getting in trouble, and knows that support will be there when needed. And I believe I have achieved this (at least, mostly) by going through my own self-growth and reflection and understanding how I can change the course of an interaction with a team member through my responses the same way I can change the course of an interaction through my positivity with the people I support.

Kassie, COR Family

COR Stories: Marvelous’ Journey to Canada and COR

Marvelous was born and raised in Nigeria — a multinational state inhabited by more than 250 ethnic groups speaking 500 distinct languages, all identifying with a wide variety of cultures. Marvelous immigrated to Canada to pursue her tertiary education. She chose Canada as her destination because it offers a world-class education. Another reason why she chose Canada was because of the multiculturalism that exists in the country.

Part of settling down in a new country means going through the rigorous immigration process. Marvelous shared that the process for her study permit was fairly straight forward, but it demanded a lot of patience and also hoping for the best as many people who seek immigration to Canada get refused every year. According to information from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), 30 percent of all study permit applications to Canada are rejected.

Asked about the biggest culture shock Marvelous had to face upon her arrival to Canada, Marvelous replied that she didn’t really face cultural shock. “Personally, I had done lots of research before coming to Canada and it helped me in my journey as a student and as a professional.” But even with doing research, nobody is ever prepared for the harsh winter weather! Marvelous said that she easily adapted to the weather once she got used to it. She also shared that she would have liked to know about the tax system in Canada. The tax system differs from country to country and Canada remains one of the countries where people pay higher taxes. On a positive note, healthcare, education and paid leaves for new parents are what attracts people to come to Canada.

Even though it was not always easy to adapt, Marvelous shared that if she has to do it all over again, she would still choose Canada. “It’s a welcoming place to be in for all cultural diversity, and a place to further intellectual abilities” mentioned Marvelous.

If there is one thing Marvelous misses about her country, it’s the food! It’s difficult to get everything she is used to eating in Nigeria.

Asked about how she joined COR, Marvelous shared that she started her journey with COR as a job coach with the 4to40 Initiative and really like helping the people we support in such an important part of their lives. “The fact that I am able to fulfill my dream of supporting people and getting paid for it makes it easy to work at COR” shared Marvelous. “I love that the pillars of gentle teaching are embedded at the core of COR, it positively changes the face of caring and supporting people” shared Marvelous about our philosophy of gentleness.

For future goals, Marvelous hopes to fully settle down in Regina, get a degree and advance her career at COR. Marvelous aspires to become a leader at COR.

Thank you Marvelous for sharing your journey to Canada, we are grateful to have you as part of our team and we pride ourselves on knowing that you love what you do and that your purpose connects with our purpose at COR.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo

Gentle Teaching Stories: “Sometimes all it takes is one positive experience to leave someone feeling safe and loved.”

I still vividly remember learning about a culture of gentleness as a young Support Worker nearly eight years ago. I remember the “lightbulb” moment that I had learning about Gentle Teaching and how I was immediately drawn to this incredible organization that treated people in a way that aligned with my values and beliefs.

Before getting hired at Creative Options Regina, I had worked for another program that supported teenagers with intellectual/developmental disabilities. I chose to leave that job because the way people were treated and looked at by those in positions of power didn’t sit right with me. I was asked to do things within that role that left me with a pit in my stomach. As someone so new to the field, I didn’t have anything to compare my experiences to, and I wondered if this is just how it goes in the disability sector.

That all changed when I began my journey at COR and realized that how I had been feeling was valid and for good reason. Treating people with kindness and dignity IS a part of this sector of work, and I had finally found a place where I felt at home. Over the past eight years at COR, I have been able to nurture a culture of gentleness not only with those I was supporting, but also within myself. A culture of gentleness isn’t just something you forget about after a support time. A culture of gentleness is something that becomes a part of you, if you let it.

I have been privileged to have been in several different roles during my time at COR, all of which have taught me different aspects of Gentle Teaching within different settings. During my time as a Direct Support Worker, Gentle Teaching meant ensuring that those I was serving felt safe around me, built trust with me, and knew I was there to support them first and foremost. As a support, I worked very hard at leaving my personal feelings, my stressors, and my struggles within my personal life at the door. I remember Jim talking about this in a training very early on and this stuck with me. As soon as I stepped into the house of the person I was serving, I was a guest in their home. I wasn’t there to only support THEM, they were not there to support me. I chose this job, and they have welcomed me into their home so it was important to enter into it with a positive attitude and open mind.

As I worked my way into the Aspiring Team Leader role and the Team Leader role, I was able to encourage and support my teammates to also work on this same mindset when entering people’s homes. How would it feel if someone came into your home and was grumpy, distracted, or upset? Would that make you feel safe? Would that be something you’d want to engage in? Would that make you feel loved? Likely not.

When I transitioned into the role of Literacy Facilitator, I remember wondering if Gentle Teaching might look a little bit different. I remember feeling worried that I might not get to spend as much time with those we supported, and wouldn’t have as much success nurturing this gentle culture I had worked so hard at in my previous roles. The truth is, it doesn’t always matter how much time you spend with someone. Sometimes all it takes is one positive experience to leave someone feeling safe and loved.

Kristyn, COR Family

COR Stories: Paramisher Singh’s Journey to Canada and COR

Paramisher Singh was born and raised in Punjab, India. Punjab is a state in the northwest region of India and is one of the most prosperous states. The name Punjab is made of two words Punj (Five) + Aab (Water) i.e., land of five rivers. Param was 18 years old when he immigrated to Canada in 2018 to pursue his studies as a Continuing Care Assistant at the Parkland College in Yorkton.

Param shared that the journey to Canada was relatively easy and straight forward. After completing Grade 12 in India, Param said he didn’t know what he wanted to do and didn’t really have a sense of direction. A friend of his dad, who is an immigration agent, talked to his dad about Canada and soon the plan was becoming a reality and he was applying for his study permit. “I had excellent scores for Grade 12, good scores for English Language test and this contributed to making the process smooth and easy for me,” said Param.

Param also said that the decision to go to Canada was not his decision, but a family decision and he was excited to come to Canada. Soon, he was preparing to immigrate to Canada to start his new life. The training at Parkland College was fairly easy and he managed to get over 90% in all his courses. He was staying in an apartment with two other people who become his close friends. They were both older than Param, and it really helped because of the good advice he got from them. Param shared he was young, innocent and naïve and having these two friends in the beginning of his journey made a positive impact early on. He also made friends with three Canadian girls at Parkland College where he was studying, and they introduced him to the Canadian culture and helped him navigate the uncertainty of being a new immigrant. “I also had good teachers that were very accepting of differences” mentioned Param.

When Param came to Canada, he had long hair and wore a turban. He shared that he had never experienced overt racism, but he shared that people look at him differently when he wears his turban. “People also asked me questions, such as: Do I travel on camels in India? Are there cars in India? I don’t mind people asking me questions. I think the more you look different, the more people look at you and have questions” Param shared.

While studying at Parkland College, Param started his first part-time job at Walmart. “It was just a job; it was not related to my purpose or what I really wanted to do, but I did enjoy it,” said Param. After his studies were completed in Yorkton, Param applied for a job at COR and got an interview. “I remember meeting Rory McCorriston and after my interview, he told me there will be another interview and I asked him if it was possible to do the second interview on the same day as I live in Yorkton.” Rory made a couple of calls and then he told Param that he will be able to do the second interview on the same day. “A few days later, I got a call from Rory and he informed me that I got the job,” Param shared proudly. I got ready and moved to Regina to start work at COR.

The first day in Regina did not go as planned. Param had an accident and he had no car to drive, but fortunately he was able to borrow a car from a friend. Param shared it was a very stressful time of his life. Eventually, after a few months, he was able to buy another car.

Param shared that settling in Regina was tough as he didn’t know anyone and he didn’t instantly make friends. He was renting a room in a basement and it was not a nice place. He felt depressed and moved to an apartment to live with another roommate. “My roommate is Canadian and he became my friend and to this date, he is one of my best friends” shared Param. His roommate moved out when he got married. Now Param lives with his sister, who also works at COR.

After 4 years in Regina, Param mentioned that he now feels a part of the community. He has a good circle of both Canadian and Indian friends. “I do not think it would have been that easy if I was not working at COR, with the culture of gentleness, I feel like most people at COR accept me for who I am and appreciate me. I feel that sense of belonging in the workplace and I know that it is not like that in every workplace,” said Param.

Asked if he has any regrets coming to Canada and Param said that he made the right decision for the opportunity that Canada provides. At the same time, it was not only his decision, it was a family decision for him to come to Canada. “I do wonder how life would have been if I had decided to stay in India”, mentioned Param. At the same time, change is the only thing that is constant and Param shared that he would not have been the person he is now, if he didn’t make those decisions. He shared that he is self-reliant, self-independent, financially independent and age-wise he is mature for his age and mentally strong to overcome any life challenges. “I know my family will always be there for me, but I know I can depend on myself” shared Param. He confesses that it has both pros and cons; coming here at a young age and living by yourself can make one person grow distant with family. The solitude one person lives when they immigrate alone to Canada means also getting used to being lonely and understanding personal space and healthy boundaries. “At some point, I needed to change to adapt and I could not stick to who I was, I made changes to adapt” shared Param.

Like thousands of immigrants who come to Canada for a better future and opportunities, Param was brave enough to make a decision that would change his life and also change the lives of other people he interacts with in Canada and at COR. Param shares that working at COR is living his purpose and he feels fulfilled and happy to make a difference.

Thank you Param for being you, for making a difference every day at COR, we see you and we are grateful to have you as part of our COR family.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo

COR Stories: Tayef Ahmed’s Journey to Canada and COR

Tayef Ahmed immigrated from Bangladesh to Canada to pursue his studies. He said that he was planning to study abroad, and while researching different places, Tayef felt that Canada was very welcoming and it was a good attraction for international students from across the globe. Thinking about the economy, programs of study, and future potential of him settling down, Canada was his top priority for his undergraduate studies. Tayef is now studying at the University of Regina. Besides being a full-time student, Tayef works as an Executive Director at a nonprofit in Regina. Tayef also has a very important role at COR; he is the Executive Services Coordinator — performing support to the COR Board of Directors.

Before joining COR, Tayef heard about COR from some of his friends who was working at COR. He shared that he honestly never thought of working at COR since his field of study is completely different than what COR does. However, a colleague of his at the U of R asked him if he was interested in a part time board secretarial position, but never mentioned the organization. She then passed Tayef’s information to another person who was connected with a COR board member who then passed his info to Amanda. Tayef was excited about the position and felt it was a great opportunity to work for COR’s Board of Directors. “Within my portfolio, I like the fact that I get to assist the senior management and the board in making important decisions for the organization,” said Tayef.

Tayef also appreciates the culture at COR and he feels a sense of belonging. The best thing he likes about COR is how welcoming it is. “To me the philosophy of gentle teaching is to see someone as a complete human. Gentle Teaching makes you understand how to think and treat others with dignity and respect” mentioned Tayef.

The immigration process was something that Tayef always looks back as a learning opportunity for his personal growth. “I was a 19-year-old student thinking about moving to a new country far from home. It was not an easy decision” mentioned Tayef.

He shared that it even got harder when he started doing everything on his own. He struggled with preparing all the required documents and filling out the application forms. Some of the things that he had to go through to prove himself as a genuine applicant were unreasonable in his opinion, but he still felt obliged to follow the instructions given by the Ministry of Immigration and Citizenship Canada. “It was stressful, but an experience that shaped my future so I regret nothing. From applying to university, to receiving the confirmation of visa, it took me about 7 months” said Tayef.

Tayef’s biggest culture shock was actually our city – Regina. He shared that he loves everything about this treaty 4 territory, but his expectation was it would be a bigger city. Also, pretty much everything was different than what he anticipated. “I was young and open to learn new things, so that open mindset helped me to integrate easily” mentioned Tayef.

The weather was another culture shock for Tayef; he had to be patient and persevere through the challenges the weather was throwing his way. It was not just the weather, rather Regina is not very accessible in winter. For example, waiting for the bus, grocery shopping when it is so cold has been difficult for Tayef.

Tayef also shared that since he was a full-time student, his focus was on his studies, and that’s where he experienced some struggles. Apart from that, managing finances— accommodating high expenses were some of his daily struggles. “When I look back on those days, I reminds myself what it took to be where I am now. There were days I walked and waited for a bus for over an hour in minus 40 degrees. There were days that I could not afford to buy a coffee; and there were years that I could not even think of being outside of Regina for vacations” shared Tayef.

Tayef connected with community and felt included because of his decision to volunteer in the community with different non-profits, and he shared this has helped him meet many people.

In 2019, Tayef also started a nonprofit on his own called “You Should Garden”. Tayef was motivated to start a community garden at the university as many university students are affected by food insecurity and “there are a lot of students in poverty and they are not getting enough food to eat,”Ahmed said. Tayef organizes Regina Seedy Saturday, a yearly event for gardeners to buy, sell, and exchange seeds. He actively serves on nonprofit boards, including: The Heritage Community Association and The Carillon Newspaper.

Tayef also shared that he would have loved to know the history of this country and all about Canada’s past treatment of Indigenous people before coming here. “My first 6 months here, I was pretty ignorant toward the Indigenous people because I knew nothing about them, nor about Canada’s past whatsoever. My learning journey started with a class— INDG 100— that I took during my second semester. I would like if every university made an Indigenous Studies class mandatory for all international students. It would be incredible.” said Tayef. In 2019, Tayef suggested the U of R add this in their Academic Plan.

Asked whether he would choose Canada all over again, Tayef admits that he is not sure. He shares that with the recent tuition increases and considering the overall economy, it would have been a hard decision to make. However, Canada would have likely remained his top priority.

Tayef does not miss anything in particular in his country of origin. He shares the Canada feels like home to him. “During my first and second year, I somewhat missed some of my friends and the fun I had with them. My family travelled/lived abroad so I did not get to spend much time with them; otherwise, I would have probably missed them. I know that some people miss the food and culture; but I just feel the multiculturalism in Canada fills all of my needs” shared Tayef.

Asked about where he finds himself in 5 years and he said that he wants to be in a place where he can make a positive impact on more people’s lives and by being in a position where he gets to serve people.

Thank you, Tayef, for choosing COR and for making a difference in our organization. Your achievement and contribution to the organization is something we are proud of.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo

COR Stories: Caterine Varel’s Journey to Canada and COR

Caterine Varel immigrated from Guatemala with her family in 2006. Guatemala is a country in Central America, south of Mexico that borders the Pacific Ocean and has a short coastline on the Gulf of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. It is also bordered by Belize, El Salvador and Honduras.

Caterine and her family were victims of organized crime that threatened the safety of her entire family. Caterine said that her mother and sister were brave enough to contact authorities which led to people being arrested, but then they realized the situation was much bigger; those arrested were part a larger crime network and no matter where they decided to go in Guatemala their lives would be threatened. For this reason, Caterine and her family came to Canada under the protected persons agreement between Canada and Guatemala. This program is also known as humanitarian and compassionate considerations helping people that are affected by violence and persecutions to seek protection in Canada.

Caterine shared that it was not an easy decision to leave her country. She said that her family loved their beautiful country, but unfortunately they had to leave the lives they had behind and seek international protection, which mean starting all over somewhere new. At that time, they had the choice to seek protection from both Australia and Canada  and applied for both. It was a long process, but Canada was first to give them approval. When they heard that they were going to come to Canada, they were relieved and looking forward to starting a new life!

Caterine said that they were ready for the challenges of immigrating to a new country, but it proved more difficult than they thought. “My biggest culture shock was that we arrived in Canada with zero English and it was difficult to communicate with people, to connect and integrate in the community. The first 2 years was the most difficult. I felt isolated at school because of the language barrier. I could not communicate with anyone and it was really tough to make friends, but I was determined and never lost hope that I will be accepted in this community,” said Caterine.

What helped Caterine to adapt was the love and companionship of her family. She could relate to them as they were all experiencing the same things in their lives. Caterine said that her focus was on her education and learning English in order to integrate and be included. She is also grateful for the help her family received from “good people in the community”. They assisted her family with resources and connected her to newcomer organizations to provide her with assistance at school. She also received help to find employment and started to participate in community activities and events that helped her connect with community. By attending more activities and events in the community, she started to learn English; little by little she was able to have a conversation in English.

“Without a doubt, the most difficult culture shock is to adapt to the harsh winter in Saskatchewan. I still find it hard in winter” shared Caterine. She also shares that she loves that Canada has 4 seasons, while in Guatemala there are only 2 seasons – summer and winter! The cold weather in Guatemala is mild and it’s mostly rainy. “One thing I wished I’d known before coming is how the economy works.” She added that in Guatemala they do not declare tax and this was confusing for her to understand the system at first.

Caterine also misses the food from Guatemala. She said that it’s not so easy to find everything they had in Guatemala here in a Saskatchewan grocery store. “There are different spices that are impossible to find here. I miss the traditional food from my country.”

Asked if she would choose Canada again if she had to make a decision today and she said that she would definitely choose Canada all over again; for Caterine, Canada is a land of opportunity and she feel blessed to have a second chance of living here in Saskatchewan with her family.

Caterine was referred by her sister who previously worked at COR.

“I chose COR when I learned about the way we provide care to people, especially the philosophy of Gentleness that is not just to provide care, but to actually care about the people we support. Working here just makes me feel good. It is not just about work, it is about care and giving care to others who need it the most. I feel that working at COR is rewarding in so many ways because I am able to give back to the community that gave my family and me a second chance at living a good life full of opportunities. Being able to give back makes me feel special” said Caterine.

Asked about her dreams and goals, Caterine said that she hopes to finish her education at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in 5 years and become a lab technician. She also wants to have a little family of her own. But, for now, she wants to concentrate on her career at COR and her education as she knows education is the key to opening doors in our society. She wants to continue working and serving the community.

Thank you, Caterine, for choosing COR. We are grateful to have you and your family here and we hope to build more memories with you.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo

COR Stories: Amr Eisa’s Journey to Canada and to COR

Amr Eisa is a Canadian with origins from Sudan. As part of his studies at the University of Regina, Amr joined COR as a practicum student in 2022. Amr’s parents were born in Sudan and moved to Regina when Amr was only 8 years old.

After moving to the UK for a short time, Amr’s parents set their sights on Regina. “I’ve had the pleasure of being able to go back to Sudan and spend summers there periodically, and I feel the main reason they chose to immigrate was to give a better life for their children,” said Amr. He also mentioned that his parents moved to Canada to have a peaceful life. Being safe is an important foundational layer upon which we build our lives. In places where geopolitical unrest is prevalent, this sense of safety can be threatened. “Again, when we are in circumstances of insecurity, it is often tough to reach one’s potential. My parents found it important that their children had a sense of autonomy over their lives, thus, they set out to a place where this would be possible” shared Amr. He also believes with autonomy comes opportunity, allowing one to have much more avenues to achieve what they deem success. If you ask any immigrant why they choose to move to another country, the answers they will give most often are for a peaceful life and to have more opportunities to succeed. Canada remains one of the countries where people still have a good quality of life.

The journey of immigrating to Canada was quite lengthy and difficult for Amr’s parents. Depending on where you are born and type of agreement your country of origin and Canada have impacts the length and complexity of the immigration journey.  “Being the eldest child, I’ve been able to witness the immigration process of some of my relatives and I can attest to that sentiment! It seems like a lot of paperwork, forms and medical exams need to be done before immigrating to Canada,” said Amr. According to Amr, the welcoming nature of the Canadians made it worth it!

Amr shared that his experience with schooling in Canada has been great. “I went to a smaller school from Grade 2 to Grade 12, where I was able to connect with many other people of different backgrounds, but similar faith. I think this is also part of what made it easier to adapt to Canada – finding people who I could relate to” shared Amr. Many of the friends Amr made in elementary school are still some of his closest friends today.

Being a young boy when he moved here, the biggest shock was the differences in the hobbies of the other children of his age. Coming from the UK, he absolutely loved soccer, but Amr quickly learned that other kids were more enamoured with football, basketball, and hockey. It took a little while but he eventually grew to widen his horizons in terms of sports and hobbies. “I believe a big part of adapting is having the desire to immerse yourself within the community. By being present in the community and seeking out new experiences and relationships, you will eventually find where you can fit in” shared Amr.

Out of all the culture shock, the weather was definitely the hardest to adapt to for Amr. “I believe I am still adapting to it! The culture was super easy to adapt to – I find that people in Canada love to talk about their background, whether they are native to Canada or not. Learning about the many cultures present within Canada and also being given an opportunity to teach about my culture made the adaptation seamless” shared Amr.

Amr has one regret though, he wishes he would still have the British accent, but with the years of being here in Canada he has lost the British accent. Amr also attended the UofR and got his Bachelor in Kinesiology; he really enjoyed his time at the university and made many friends.

Amr is very grateful for the choice his parents made to immigrate to Canada. “The people here are wonderful, welcoming, and open-minded. The landscape is vast and scenic, and the opportunities are endless” mentioned Amr. “I feel very lucky to grow up in an environment in which many different cultures are present. I think being surrounded by a variety of people worked wonders to opening my mind and enriching my worldview”.

Amr also confessed that he has never experienced overt racism. However, he is aware of others’ experiences and it is definitely something that is still present in our society. “I believe it is important to remember that with connection and conversation, minds can be changed” shared Amr.

Amr initially did his fieldwork with Ben Morris at the COR Studio last summer which was a super enjoyable time according to him. Amr shared that Ben was a big part in showing him how to transfer skills and passions he already has in activities he was creating; while also giving Amr constructive criticism on how to improve. “Ben and the folks at the studio played a huge role in welcoming me to COR and finding out where I fit in. From helping out at the studio, assisting at Short Breaks, and facilitating a mindfulness class, it felt great to build genuine relationships with the folks that COR supports. After completing my fieldwork, I had no choice but to apply to be a support worker! I found a niche where I can help people be the best version of themselve while fostering connections “shared Amr.

Amr believes in the world we live in, organisations like COR are absolutely vital. “Being a part of an organisation that challenges the status quo and our current care model is amazing! It seems that the ‘human element’ is something that is overlooked in providing care/support”. “COR, with its philosophy of gentle teaching not only includes the human element, but emphasizes it. The genuine relationships built within COR are a testament to this! I am very lucky to be supporting with COR” shared Amr.

Amr sees himself continuing his journey through academics while continuing to build relationships with the CORfam!

Thank you, Amr, for choosing COR, we are happy and grateful that your parents choose Canada. Having you part of our organization only enhances it and we hope you continue to build both professional and personal relationship here at COR and with the CORfam.

Written by Joana Valamootoo

COR Stories: Mouhamed Habib Niang’s Journey to Canada

Born and raised in Saint-Louis, Senegal, Mouhamed Habib Niang moved to Canada in January 2019 to attend college. Senegal, officially the Republic of Senegal, is a country in West Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Senegal is well known for its official language which is French. Senegal is also known as a multilingual country with 36 languages spoken.

Mouhamed like many international students, came to Canada to obtain a world-renowned diploma and to gain international exposure. Mouhamed also added that international students in Canada enjoy the same rights and freedoms that protect all Canadians which are: respect for human rights, equality, diversity, and a stable and peaceful society. It was because of these attributes that made Mouhamed choose Canada.

When asked about the immigration process, Mouhamed stated that it was very straightforward. “I only followed the steps given by immigration so that I can process my case as quickly as possible without slowing down. The procedure involves obtaining an accepted letter from a Canadian university, applying for a visa using the letter provided by the university, and undergoing a medical test. “It only took 3 months before I obtained my visa to come to Canada,” added Mohammed.

Mouhamed remembers his first day as if it was yesterday, and he added that without a doubt, the cold weather was his first cultural shock.  “My sister who was already in Canada, came to pick me at the airport on the 15th of January 2019 and she brought a winter jacket for me, telling me that it was minus 35 degrees outside. I remember telling her, I won’t need the jacket as I have a hoodie, without realizing how cold it can get in winter because I have never lived it before”. “Once I was outside, I recalled, running back inside. I had never experienced that type of cold weather before and I will never forget that day. It was nice to see the world differently, and at the same time, it’s a funny memory I will cherish in my life”.

Mouhamed also shared that his second and most important cultural shock was the language. “I barely spoke English before arriving in Canada. So, my vocabulary and comprehension were not so good. I had difficulties understanding people who speak English very fluently and quickly”.  Although Mouhamed speaks French in his country of origin, it was still a little difficult even in French. “I had a little trouble understanding the Quebec or Franco-Manitoban accent” shared Mouhamed.

“I also avoided eye contact when talking with my professors in college and this was mainly out of respect and it’s also a cultural difference between Canada and my birth country” shared Mouhamed. Soon, Mouhamed learned that in Canada, avoiding eye contact when talking to someone was a sign of disrespect and it also meant that the individual does not care about the conversation. This was a learning curve for Mouhamed and he understood how culture can change between countries and from country to country.

Mouhamed also shared that what has helped him and his friends from Senegal to connecrt with the community was a project that was being conducted at the Universite de Saint-Boniface where he was studying in Manitoba. This 3-year research project was carried out in collaboration with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and several community partners working for the settlement and integration of newcomers in Manitoba. Mouhamed received settlement and integration services as part of this project. He also got the opportunity to learn from other immigrants who came to Canada before him as well as from other organizations and employer information sessions.

“It is part of a series of projects on the themes of immigration, integration, inclusion and identity. This project has helped me and my friends from Senegal to let people know that we love Canadian culture and respect the traditions and culture, but we also shared that we do not want to be judged for things we do based on our culture or religion” added Mouhamed.

Asked if there is one thing, he would have liked to know before coming to Canada, Mouhamed said that he would have liked to know that even though English and French are both the main languages, he would have liked to know that English is the language mostly spoken by people in Canada. He also shared that if he had known that Rugby and American Football were the main sports here in Canada, he would have been more serious about it in Senegal to increase his chances of playing in the CFL.

Mouhamed stated that if he had to do it all over again, without any doubts, he will. “Canada is a land of opportunities and there are so many employment opportunities. And, you can achieve your goals and become anything you want or have a career that you want. There are no limits” added Mouhamed.

While life is good here in Regina, Mouhamed said he truly misses his parents, siblings and the traditional food.

Mouhamed shared that many times people have referred to him as being an altruistic person. He was a volunteer in an association that cares for sick and disabled people in small villages in Senegal. In that association, Mouhamed shared that he had the opportunity to learn more about people and develop a love for helping people.

“Working at COR is more than a job to me, the fact that I get up in the morning thinking that I’m going to see this person and we are going to have a good time together, doing activities together, and helping them feel safe and comfortable is more than a job to me, it brings me genuine happiness. And of course, everything I do, I always try to remain professional at all times”.

Asked where Mouhamed see himself in 5 years and he shared that he will like to have a long career at COR and if the opportunity was presented to him, he is also interested to work in Human Resources, as he has a degree that field.

Thank you for choosing to be part of our COR family, we are grateful that you choose COR and we look forward to seeing you accomplish great things at COR and in your life.

 

Written by Joana Valamootoo