A helping hand across cultures

  • December 7, 2007

{mosimage}TORONTO - Finding meaningful work has been the challenge for Jhansi and Raghu Paladugu since they moved from Hyderabad in southern India to Canada a little over a year ago.

“Canadian life is very hard,” said Jhansi Paladugu. “We have to start from the zero level again.”

Jhansi was a political science teacher and web journalist who now works in customer service with Teleperformance Canada, while Raghu, a former senior journalist, is unemployed.

Despite the challenges of starting a life in a new country, they decided to move to Scarborough for the sake of their son Sri’s education. He is a Grade 12 student at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

{sidebar id=1} “One of the primary reasons newcomers come to Canada is to give their children a better chance,” said Huma Nauman, who co-ordinates Catholic Crosscultural Services’ school settlement program. “They are very conscious about the quality of education their kids receive. They may feel deprived of many of the things they were used to, but the one thing that really helps them sustain a positive spirit is to see their children succeed.”

To help families succeed Catholic Cross-cultural Services has 19 settlement workers based in more than 40 schools across Scarborough, including Jean Vanier, and Precious Blood and St. Maria Goretti Elementary Schools. Settlement workers establish and maintain contact with newcomer families, determine their needs and link them to services in the school and community among other things.

Settlement worker Odelle Agustin has helped the Paladugus adjust. He’s met with Mrs. Paladugu several times, giving her job search tips and referrals. But he said providing encouragement and moral support is often the biggest help.

Agustin said for newcomer students their major challenges are familiarizing themselves with the Canadian school system, adjusting to a new culture and figuring out how to maintain their native identity and culture.

Agustin uses his personal experience to relate to his clients. The 32-year-old moved to Canada from the Philippines when he was 18. He struggled with loneliness and wrestled with how he was going to succeed as a Canadian and as a Filipino, which is a similar struggle he sees in his clients.

“They want to adjust to the new Canadian culture and the new school environment and at the same time they also want to preserve and sustain their own culture and identity.”

The transition was made easier for the Paladugu family since they already spoke English when they arrived in Canada. However, this isn’t the case for everybody. The school settlement program serves refugee claimants and landed immigrants with varying degrees of language skills.

Currently, there is an influx of refugee claimants without status from Mexico who’ve crossed over to Canada via the United States, said Nauman. Cross-Cultural Services has increased its part-time Spanish workers to full-time hours to meet the need.

There are high need families that are living in the shelters, but very quickly they are moving to housing in the community, said Nauman.

In recent years immigrants from mainland China were the bulk of clients that the program serves.

While immigrants from China have different needs, language is a huge barrier, said Nauman.

“They may be able to read and write, but can’t speak,” she said.

Aside from school settlement workers, Catholic Cross-cultural Services provides language programs, job search workshops, settlement services, a refugee sponsorship program and housing support in Scarborough, Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.

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