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