Project gives a public voice to immigrants and refugees

Project gives a public voice to immigrants and refugees

newcomer speakers bureau

United Food and Commercial Workers Union

June 6, 2011

Sixteen immigrants and refugees to Canada each mustered admirable courage to take the microphone at the Toronto City Hall Council Chambers recently, when they told their heartbreaking yet empowering individual life stories to a gathering of city officials, community activists, families and friends.

All sixteen were graduates of the Newcomer Speakers Bureau — a  Mennonite New Life Centre project that offered a ten-week training course in public speaking and advanced leadership skills for new Canadians from a variety of cultural backgrounds.  UFCW Canada was a co-sponsor of the project that gave a voice to these diverse graduates, who articulated their struggles as newcomers and their passion and dreams for themselves and for Canada.

Sandra Cordero was a labour activist in Bogota, Colombia who worked for the global solidarity movement but was forced to flee in 2002 for security reasons. The Canadian Labour Congress sponsored her to come to Canada. She told the City Hall gathering a bittersweet story of the joy of her and her family finding refuge in Canada; only to have her mother and brother die a few years after they arrived.  One of her children also has a chronic illness. Yet despite her life struggles, Sister Cordero vowed to the graduation audience she would continue her advocacy; borrowing Martin Luther King’s quote that “the opposite of good is indifference.”

Lubna Iqbal has a Masters degree from Pakistan. She was petitioned by her husband to settle in Canada. She told her Canadian-experience story of twelve years of work, struggle, and systemic discrimination that had filled her with self-doubt; yet ready to keep up her challenge that the academic credentials of newcomers should be recognized in her adopted homeland.

Leticia Esquivel came from Cuba in 2005 equipped with academic credentials and work experience as a mental health worker. Reflecting upon her own challenges, she tackled the much-dreaded phrase “Canadian experience” and posed the question “what part of us needs to change?” She then referenced a famous adage by Cuban Leader Fidel Castro that country is humanity, and that change is a sharing process for both the newcomer and the government in order to create a better society.

The Mennonite New Life Centre is a Toronto multicultural community centre for newcomers that offers a wide range of programs and services to help refugees and immigrants adjust to their new life in Canada.

Credit: United Food and Commercial Workers Union

Dawnmarie Harriott