An Immigrant’s Diary – Angels of Abbotsford

Support from key individuals helped put newcomer on road to success

  • Apr. 25, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Ajit Sinha

Ajit Sinha

As the large wheels of the Boeing 747-400 touched the runway on one of the runways of Vancouver airport, the only thoughts that crossed my mind was why I chose to immigrate, knowing well that integration at my age will be not only be difficult but also psychologically stressful. I am a 50-year-old, extremely accustomed to a planned and focused way of life. Every activity has to be delivered seamlessly in a style of perfection. Here I did not know what was in my journey which was as per plan. This date will be forever etched in my mind. March 09, 2012 at 6.30 pm, I had consciously chosen to push back well over 30 years of my life.

My work career had started early at the age of 18 and by 20 years of age, I was wearing a commissioned officers uniform in the Armed Forces in India in the early 80s. Little did I know that in my quest for a new identity some decades later, there will be several angels who would hold my hand, listen with attention and have faith in my abilities.

Abbotsford was the place of abode by choice as there was the option of a home welcoming me and warm delicious Indian meals to eat. Two essentials of life were to be met. Before departing from India, it was well known to me that I had to search for a new identity in society, find equivalence of credentials and most important establish a source of steady income. In the first few days were the clear recognition of the oblivion that I had pushed myself into. Just to let you know that an extremely successful career had been suddenly given up for a bright future of middle age, retirement and fabulously beautiful surroundings. The only bonus was that this choice was taken only for my wife and me. Our adult children had better options up their sleeve.

Immigration has been traditionally well supported in the Canadian society. There have been studies that have supported immigration levels and have even provided reasons for increasing the levels of immigration to the country. The important thing to note here is that Canada needs skilled immigrants. The entire immigration system in Canada has been designed keeping in mind that skilled workers should be preferred over others. For this reason, the immigration process itself in Canada is based on a number system whereby the more numbers “earned” by a person, better are the chances for him being able to immigrate to Canada. In fact, comparing the education levels of U.S. and Canada affirms that immigrants to Canada are more skilled. However, this process itself is not without problems. One of the most important problems being faced by immigrants in the current years is getting their skills recognized. While during immigration, education degrees are recognized by the Canadian government, on their arrival in Canada most immigrants find that prospective employers and professional organizations do not recognize their foreign credentials. Immigrants have to wait to get their credentials recognized and this delay also affects the effectiveness of immigration to Canadian society.

In my case too, though I had two post-graduate degrees and close to 30 years of experience, there were no takers. In fact, it took six months for the international credential evaluation organization to give recognition to my education qualification.There was no recognition of the work experience and plethora of awards won in my career.

What kept me going were the people whom I met while struggling to get a “foot inside the door,” both in society and for work.

They were angels. It seemed that God had descended on Earth to help me through them. They have been talked about not in the order of importance but in the order of the time I met them and the volume of time I spent with them.

I was staying with my in-laws. Mitu Bola, my sister-in-law, was an inspired mother of a lovely six-month-old boy with practically no help at home to share the burden of rearing the child and take care of domestic chores.

She was not the one on whom I had planned to depend to connect me to the right people. The men of the house were the ones who had offered this help. However, on work days, they cannot afford to miss work just to make life easier for a new immigrant like me. It was in this dichotomy of situation that Mitu volunteered to drive me around to the right places. Her contribution to my start of new life was immense. There is public transportation in Abbotsford, but you need to know the place, office and the people.

In spite of the limitation of little time available to her, not once did she demonstrate any emotion other than happiness to help me whenever I asked.

I had underestimated her knowledge of how and what to do as a new immigrant. In fact, in comparison, the men of the house were novices. Her network was of people who even to this day have been supportive of my endeavours. Today, if I have a network, she is the starting point.

Where did I stand after six months of staying here in Abbotsford? Your guess is right – still jobless. While the number of skilled workers coming to Canada has increased in the last 20 years, so has unemployment among the new immigrants in this pool. One has to realize the implications of this. The practical result of this delay in absorption means that a high number of skilled resources that would have otherwise added to the Canadian economy are performing jobs that they are highly over-qualified for.

Under normal conditions, these jobs would have gone to a stratum of the Canadian population that is now jobless.

The positions that Canada needs these skilled immigrants to fill are still empty.

Here is the field where Pat Christie works. She is the mentoring connections program owner for the Abbotsford Community Services (ACS). Just one call to her in my first few days evoked a pleasant welcome and an eager response to meet soon. Pat and I met through a connection of Mitu Bola.

I have seen Pat Christie with three different pairs of eyes. First, as a newcomer, the second as a struggler, and the third as one who became a friend. I came to Abbotsford looking for a new life and a new career. It was my good luck that I met this angel of the “city in the country” in the very first month.

Being a professional for the last three decades, recognizing an excellent human being was instant. She was thorough in her knowledge of what needs to be done, communicated in a clear and concise language and knew her professional domain.

Pat Christie is down to earth, explains realities of the struggle in life and walks the talk. With the task of guiding so many destinies of so many like my breed, her role is onerous and important. She is empathetic and yet stern in her own unique way. In her words, she has just two hours per week for each client, but actually she practically lives and breathes every second for her family, friends, colleagues, and clients like us.

Her mentor’s program is designed in a flexible way to suit all clients. In all our interactions, I have always seen her encouraging both her team and the clients to share, communicate and independently handle decisions.

There were a number of times when in frustration, I wrote mails to her at 11 p.m, stating how the system was unfair. Replies from Pat were instant, critical of my rhetoric and thought-provoking.

In the second phase of struggle in my life, Pat encouraged connection with people. Anyone who I met in my quest to carve a career, knew her and had mountains of praise for her. Pat has an immense reservoir of knowledge, skills and the widest network that I have seen in Abbotsford. She encourages participation and presents the best picture of Abbotsford Community Services as a team. All whom I know speak highly of Pat’s untiring efforts in giving, sharing and listening. You just need to reach out to her and her response is prompt, complete and rewarding. The respect people have for her can only be understood when you hear people speaking about her good work.

Pat’s Employment Mentors program gave me a strong platform to test my skills against what the labour market needs today in human resources. The program itself was well explained and the values it generated were immense. Areas where I benefited were:

Clear assessment of my skills.

Clarity on how to set goals.

Clarity in what goals are correct for me.

Acquire networking skills.

Moral support, which any immigrant needs badly when the prospects do not seem good.

Emotional support. An immigrant needs emotional hand-holding most of the time during his journey in settlement in a new country. Pat responded to my panicked text messages almost instantly.

It was Pat who referred me to Satwinder Bains just a few days after I met her. Apart from her busy job of the head of a department at one of the universities, she is also actively involved in propagating the culture, values, beliefs and contributions of Sikhs and the Punjabi community in the development of Canada.

After our meeting, her comment was “it seems I have known you for ages.”

I was instantly at home, comfortable that this individual had time for newcomers and seriously meant to guide. My first volunteer task started in her department where I researched how Indians first came to Canada, why they were here and how they contributed to our nation building.

To my surprise, I found that their journey of immigration was full of difficulty, discomfort and reflected a life which I could not possibly live even if I tried.  Today, the government and the people support immigrants. This crucial support they never had.

This city is proud to have the oldest Sikh temple (111 years) in North America. This national heritage was built painstakingly by the Sikhs by carrying material on their backs. If I had not met Satwinder, my endeavour to succeed would have diminished. She reinforced the belief that volunteering not only helps gain knowledge, skills and connections, it also educates another facet of life where one learns what others go through to succeed.

One fine day in June 2012, once again Mitu took me to one of her contacts and got me introduced to Brenda Hadwin. She works as one of the senior leaders for a retail giant. All that was put to her was that I be given a chance. A couple of days later, a call did offer an interview. I have not looked back since then. I do not know if Brenda saw a spark in me, but that opportunity gave me a lease on life in Canada.

I have since then risen in my profile in the organization and come to know Brenda well. I may have been the umpteenth individual she has guided to an opportunity in life. I do see an inspired leader who cares for all, irrespective whether the person has asked for her attention. Her guffaw of laughter is known by all. If you hear that particular sound, you know that Brenda is her usual self that day, enjoying a moment with another colleague and also doing her task. But do not break rules or not do your task when she is at work. From nowhere you will hear the sound of her heels; she will appear and show you what you should do. She appears extremely stern and a no-nonsense individual. At heart, she is soft, caring, professional and full of passion for everything she does. She is a role model in the organization. I learn from her all the time.

There were others, too. In time I will share their contributions to society, people and new immigrants and my life. Today, when I look back I smile, as without these ladies my time would not have come.

To all newcomers, it should be known that if you are skilled, there is a job for you and your time will come. Find that angel of your life. There are many in this city working tirelessly to bring a smile on the faces of those who need them.

Today, I am on my first step towards success in life. But these angels still remain a role model.  Their ability to have people connect with each other across organizations or programs is phenomenal and complete with clarity in what needs to be achieved. They allow self-assessment and constructive feedback to build goals.

All of them focus on perfection and it shows in their words, behaviour, actions and all forms of communication.

May you get an angel to hold your hand and guide you.

Now a resident of Abbotsford, Ajit Sinha has specialized in human resources. He is a military veteran, and is in his third career. He enjoys writing to connect with people. His love for culture and challenges has brought him to Canada.




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