Citizenship and Immigration Canada has denied visas for three 16-year-old Nicaraguan students who were due to visit Canadian students in Caledon, Ontario.

Visa problems quash meeting between Nicaraguan and Canadian students

  • May 16, 2012

Three 16-year-old Nicaraguan students’ had their dreams shattered as an all-expenses-paid trip to Canada ended before it began when they were denied visas to enter Canada.

“The day I got the phone call here in my office I sat here and cried, literally sat here and cried,” said Brenda Holtkamp, chaplaincy leader at Robert F. Hall Catholic Secondary School in Caledon, Ont., which had sponsored the Nicaraguans. “Not only was I sad for myself and all the students here in the school that worked so hard for this reality, I was really very said for the young people in Nicaragua who have never had the opporunity to travel, who were so close to being here . . . and just because of bureaucracy they were turned down.”

Holtkamp was provided no explanation why the young Nicaraguans were turned down. Citizenship and Immigration Canada did not return phone calls from The Catholic Register.

For the past 15 years Holtkamp has been a part of the school’s North South Awareness Project, an annual trip which takes about 15 students to Nicaragua every February to work on community projects and build international relationships.

“It’s been our dream for many years that we wanted to bring people from Nicaragua here to have an experience,” said Holtkamp, who received a Michael Carty Award from the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario that provides funds to support school initiatives.

After receiving $1,800 from CEFO, the school began fundraising to fully fund the 14-day trip to Canada for three students and one teacher from the independently run FUNARTE mural-art program. The FUNARTE program provides a means of artistic expression for youth across Latin America. 

Once here the foreign visitors were to collaborate with their Canadian counterparts to produce a mural measuring 2.5 metres by 14 metres long.

“We were excited about this year. We thought it would be wonderful to bring students here to have an experience and to further build solidarity,” Holtkamp said. “We didn’t want them to have an experience here of rich North America and that the young people would go back feeling that they can never attain what we have here in that sense. Rather, we wanted to continue the work of building relationships and solidarity.”

Although the Nicaraguans were denied visas, the mural project did not die, as teacher Rosario Alanisgames did arrive.

“They were super emotional about the chance to get to know another country. Before receiving the bad news they had prepared all kinds of murals that they might bring, designs and cultural stuff. They were going to do some dancing.” said Alanisgames through a translator.  “When they found out that their visas had been denied they were extremely sad for . . .  all the emotional build up they had in the preparations was suddenly taken away, the wind out of their sails. Their dream was broken in that moment.”

Unlike his students, who he said would likely never get to leave Nicaragua without programs like North South, Alanisgames has travelled to Belgium, Holland and Ireland since joining FUNARTE 12 years ago. Despite the absence of his pupils Alanisgames remained fully dedicated to the project, ensuring it was ready for the May 10 unveiling.

Now complete, the mural will be used as a backdrop during various school and board level events. While the school still needs to establish a safe means of transporting and displaying the mural, Alanisgames has his own large message of solidarity to carry.

“For my students that are taking the mural workshop in Estelle, even though they were not able to to come, I’m going to take back a lot of emotion and a lot of hugs from the kids here to them so that they feel like they’ve been part of this, feel content and perhaps give them the strength to reapply to come back next year,” he said.

That’s an opportunity Holtkamp stressed will still be there for them.

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