Dennis: My First Month at DIVERSEcity

I started working at DIVERSEcity at the perfect time, because we are having lots of Christmas activities! There are lots of activities to be involved in, for example, we Christmas party in which everyone was cheery and dressed up in nice and colourful coats, Christmas sweaters and Santa’s hats. ,There are seminars going on, staff gatherings, gift exchange activities & let´s not forget about the snow! Almost everyone has a story about what the snow brought into their lives. Some say they love it and while others say it’s hard to drive around with the streets full of snow, but for me it’s a white & happy Christmas for the first time in Canada.

Now getting back to business…. a friend from back home asked me “What exactly do you do at DIVERSEcity?” Well my friend, my role here is very DIVERSE! It starts by checking and answering my emails and drinking some chai tea made by myself or sometimes coffee, (both offered by DIVERSEcity 🙂 ).  If my help is needed, sometimes I help at the front desk. It’s actually fun to answer phone calls. Because I’m new I’m always asking who Maureen Chang is, or who Gurminder is! I will soon learn everyone’s name but it may take time as there are over 100 employees here. When a client does not speak English but only speaks Arabic or another language I always ask Kim and Haneet for help, or I check my list of contacts and ask, perhaps, Rana to come and help translate for me. Working in a multicultural and lingual environment can be challenging but it is important to always be friendly and patient! I’m sometimes have to try to figure out what the clients want by making funny faces or gestures with my hands; I guess I should learn a third language!

dennis1I also love helping with the Community Kitchen Program because I am able to learn new recipes and I also get try the food afterwards. I helped Leo prepare the mashed potatoes once
and they was so good that I served myself twice. But that’s not what it’s all about, it’s about being able to share good moments with clients, learn new skills and help them practice English, and helping them interact and meet new friends. They like the program so much that they even come on a snowy or rainy days. They never miss a day.

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We made salad, garlic bread, mashed potatoes, pork with mushrooms and a strawberry and blueberry smoothie. Yum, I’m hungry now!

dennis3I also recently went to a settlement session for immigrant support workers on employment related topics at the Surrey Sports & Leisure Centre. They talked about some of the services, requirements and benefits available for newcomers, refugees & permanent resident clients. Some of our neighbour organizations were at the event as well, so it was an excellent time to network and to promote the workshop I’m working on.

dennis4I supported Helen with the Food Security, Community Kitchen program. This program provides opportunities for immigrant, refugee and low income families to increase their food security through multicultural cooking groups and community garden activities.

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Irene Yan and I were able to decorate the dining room, wrap the gifts and play some Christmas music. She came up with some fun games to play with the guests.

These are the gifts we gave to our guests, volunteers and clients.

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DIVERSEcity for me is a place where I can really have fun while I help the community. It’s a place to learn how to get along with people from diverse backgrounds and it challenges me to do things I have never done before.

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A friend took a photo of me on my way to DIVERSEcity
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A photo from the Apple Cider Gathering

Apple Cider gathering – This event is an annual tradition at DIVERSEcity. Staff get to enjoy some winter treats. I did not help with this event but I wanted to share the picture to show some of the holiday activities DIVERSEcity had during the month of December. I was able to share a few minutes with the staff, eat some cookies and grapes, and I tasted homemade apple cider for the first time!

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On December 8 we had our department gift exchange activity. I enjoyed it and I was able to learn staff names, take pictures, eat, laugh, have some fun, and tried to guess who gave which gift.

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Everything was so delicious that I wanted the recipe of some of the goodies. I think everyone enjoyed it and the amazing part was that everything was vegetarian!

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I was trying to remember everyone’s name but I knew only 5 or 6 at that point.

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Guess who gave me the gift card and the macaroons? It was Helen Shin, and she even made the macaroons herself!

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“Feeding the Soul: Healthy Mind & Bodies Program” is the new program I am working on! It focuses on refugee and new immigrants/newcomers teens & youths. We will be hosting fun activities, discussing interesting topics, and have guest speakers. I will be sharing a little bit of my experience on how I coped with integrating into Canadian society. We are also going to show the participants how to make easy & healthy snacks in our community kitchen. The first group will start in mid-January 2017 and will be for teens between the ages of 12-15 years old. The second group will be for ages of 15-18 and the third group will be for youth ages 19-24. Right now I’m just getting everything ready.

So I guess that’s what I’ve been doing this month. Reading the policy book, helping out front desk, helping with the Settlement monthly report, going to meetings and seminars, supporting the Settlement team with the English workshop at the Guildford Library, writing for this blog, and helping the Community Kitchen & Moving Ahead Program. It has been busy!

Introducing… LEO!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Leo Ramirez and I am the Community Kitchen Coordinator for the New Immigrants Program.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Almost 8 months!

What inspired you to work here/why do you do what you do?
I have worked around food security with different ethnic groups and immigrants in the past.  When I saw the open position here I applied because food security is one of my passions and working with new immigrants is really interesting because I can help them in different ways to adapt to a new country. It reminds me of myself when I came to Canada 28 years ago and I understand the process of adapting into a new culture, country, language, and weather.

How do you spend most of your work time?
I plan menus for the community kitchens, set up the cooking stations, go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients, and I organize workshops related to food security and field trips with participants.

What are the field trips like?
They are field trips related to food security, so for instance if a community kitchen group is interested in going to the food bank, we will take a trip there. The workshops focus on food security, food systems, farming, and community gardens. The other part of the program is the cooking sessions.

What advice do you have for your clients?
To learn English because English is the key. Get the education and try to get the equivalent of your degree when you get here. That will allow you, in some cases, to get into the profession that you were in before. Try to understand Canadian culture and eat Canadian food because it is important to start experiencing the food you find here – it’s what you will be eating! There will be foods you liked before you came to Canada that you may not be able to find here. In central America there are 6 different varieties of oranges, bananas, pineapples, and specific fruits you won’t find here and you miss those things. You have to try new fruits. For example, we don’t have apples or grapes in central America. We eat apples and grapes during special occasions like Christmas because they are expensive and need to be imported. We have 1-2 apples for Christmas, but here you find apples everywhere, but you can’t find mangoes all year round.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with this population?
My advice is to learn about their culture. Be updated about what’s going on in their countries of origin because that will help you to understand exactly what those people are going through and the reasons why they are coming to Canada. Having that information on hand will help you design programs that are truly related to what they are going through and how they can adapt to Canada.

Do you find language is an issue in your programs?
It is, because some of the participants are very new and don’t speak English, so we have volunteers to help us interpret.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Working with the settlement workers that are coming from different parts of the world. This gives me the opportunity to learn more about different countries. I’ve met people here from Palestine, the Philippines, Korea, and from other countries around the world. Even from Africa! This building is like the United Nations! The variety of people I work with is great – it’s nice to learn from other cultures, and they learn from Latin American countries too. It’s fun.

What are some of the challenges you face in fulfilling your role?
The main challenge is communication because I’m working with different ethnic groups who speak different languages, but I only speak Spanish and English. 

What do you like to do outside of work and how do you de-stress?
My profession before coming here has become my hobby. I used to be a radio broadcaster. Right now I have a radio show on CITR 101.9 FM – UBC’s radio station. The show is Monday from 5-6 PM and is about Latin Americans. We play Latin American music and I do interviews with local musicians. I have been doing this since 2000  – 16 years!

Do you do your show by yourself?
Yes I am the producer and the host of the Leo Ramirez Show. I love communications, sometimes I write articles for newspapers in El Salvador.

So you studied journalism?
Yes in El Salvador, and then at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. I lived in southern Ontario for a few years.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Barcelona in Spain.

Have you been there before?
No but I hope to visit that city some time soon.

Did you travel a lot while you lived in El Salvador?
To Costa Rica and Mexico.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
I read articles from different sources, mostly newspapers, but there is one book I like called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Can you share something you are proud of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
I’m proud of having a food security program because food security is important, especially for newcomers because the food system we have here is not sustainable. The way we produce food in the farms here costs a lot of money and in some places pesticides are still used. Right now greenhouses are going in a different direction. For example, nature has 4 seasons and tomatoes, for instance, grow in a particular season. Greenhouses grow tomatoes the whole year by creating an artificial environment that allows tomatoes to grow – but they are not related to nature because they are growing in artificial environments.

Food security allows us to learn and understand these things. It’s cheaper for big corporations to import vegetables from Mexico than to support local farmers. When you go to supermarket, a bunch of radishes costs 50 cents, but when they buy them from Mexico they are paying 2-3 cents per bunch. They are making a lot of profit. When you go to the farmers market you are probably paying $1 for the same radishes. The cost of production is higher here and the laws allow the food system we have in place to create profit but they don’t really care if we get sick or not. Food security is important because it allows citizens to really understand the food system.

If you go into any supermarket, 70% of the  food is processed. Processed foods use GMOs or chemicals to make their product. We are eating GMOs products without knowing what’s going on, and this is discussed in the Food Security Program. I’m very proud of this program because it helps people become more aware of things. The Community Garden part of this program helps people grow their own food.

What are your pet peeves?
When someone else is using the sink to wash dishes, then someone else comes along and needs to wash their hands and pushes you aside. Why do people do this? Why do they think they have the right to push you aside? I’m going to write a book and talk to psychologists about this.

Something quirky or interesting about yourself you’d like to share?
I think Leo Ramirez is someone who is very committed to making things happen. I see myself as a community developer because I have experience working with communities. I like making things fun so people can enjoy the activities and programs. And I love music. Music is the queen of my soul – no music no work! I’m just a Latin American guy who loves music, has a passion for radio, and is a community developer.

Introducing… DENNIS!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Dennis Juarez Flores and my role is Settlement & Community Programs Support Worker.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in a tropical city in Honduras, called San Pedro Sula (known as the industrial city of the country). I always believed that I could do better, that I could help others and that I had a lot of potential to give in whatever field I wanted, but it was very difficult because of the corruption and crime in my country. I always wanted something new, something different and a career and life change. And in fact my life did change, when I decided to come to Vancouver. I came to Canada on April 6th, 2016. I spent almost 3 months preparing myself & preparing paperwork for my hearing and on June 16th the board member approved my claim. After that process, I applied for Permanent Residency, which was approved shortly after they received my application.

I volunteered for almost 3 months at Settlement Orientation Services, and even though a lot of people told me that I shouldn’t waste my time on volunteering, I never stopped, in fact I even doubled my time. My role there was to help newcomers settle in BC by helping them fill out immigration forms and by giving them advice on how to go through the process. Looking for job in BC was very challenging and competitive, until I got training at the YMCA. I learned so much and I was able to share my thoughts, ideas & experiences.

After the program ended, I contacted several organizations and just 2 of them replied back, one of them was DIVERSEcity. After several emails, I got an informal interview and I came here obviously nervous and not knowing what to expect. That same day, my current manager told me if I could start next week. I just couldn’t believe it! I was so happy, excited and thankful that I immediately called my family and told them about it. We were all so happy.

Can you tell me about the programs you support?
At first I started supporting the Community Kitchen Programs, LINC Workshops at Guildford Library and most recently a new program called Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds & Bodies.

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Can you tell me about the Feeding the Soul: Healthy Mind & Bodies program?
This program targets children & youth in the Surrey area with a particular focus on those that are newcomers, immigrants & refugees. This program will include workshops about how to deal with stress, self-confidence, and self-esteem. We’ll also talk about how to cope with school, society, and new culture. We may have talks from guests as well.

How do you spend most of your work time?
Preparing for the Feeding the Soul workshop is now my main focus. A normal day at DIVERSEcity for me is preparing PowerPoint presentations, searching for videos and pictures for the workshop, looking for fun activities to do and contacting guest speakers. I have also supported the front desk and helped with monthly settlement reports.

What advice do you have for your clients?
I know leaving everything behind is not easy; some of you might have left your family, friends and belongings. I know at first it seems so difficult. Some days are good and others bad, you have to adapt to a new culture, new people, and different weather. Everything seems very challenging; you don’t know how to take the bus or the sky train, there is a different language and trying to integrate into a new society is hard. But guess what? Everything changes! You get used to everything, you start to like the weather, you challenge yourself to make new friends, and you see the kindness in people – people who give you strength & encourage you to continue and to not give up.

Some advice I can give you is to do volunteer work, which will help you get Canadian job experience. You’ll get to know new people & you’ll learn new stuff. The good thing about coming to a new country is that you can start over, have a career change or even change your life.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
What I enjoy the most is learning new things and getting to know new people from different backgrounds. I like how diverse the clients and staff are and getting to know new cultures is so amazing; you might even see that you have some similarities in music and food.

What are some of the challenges of the work?
One of the challenges anticipate that I might face is with teenagers from 12-15 years old, because they might be shy to participate. My challenge will be to get them to speak English and to get them to participate without fear in our activities.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
Working at DIVERSEcity for me is so great because I am learning a little bit of everything. I am putting my ideas into action, and being heard by my manager is what makes my job so amazing. It’s good to know that they care about the clients and staff. For me, this is a good opportunity to grow in the settlement field, to gain more experience and perhaps to grow within the organization.

What are your hobbies and interests and how do you de-stress?
My hobbies include watching Netflix, going for walks, going to the beach and just feeling the wind, hanging out with my friends and talking to my loved ones. Whenever I feel stressed, I definitely go to the beach because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel at peace with myself and it reminds me of my country.

What country or city would you like to visit?
I would love to go to Bora Bora, France, and Toronto. I would also like to see the Aurora Borealis in Yukon.

What has been surprising for you over the course of your career?
That everything changes. I always wanted to work for a non-profit organization and I wanted to help people. I studied medicine for almost 5 years in Honduras but coming to Canada I realized that helping people was what I wanted to do. So I started volunteering at a settlement organization and as I write this I realize that 5 years ago I wanted to do what I’m doing now. So at the end you always get what you want.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
It has changed my life completely. I am more careful with what I say or do, I have more empathy for people, I have always been kind-hearted so now I care more about others, I try to listen carefully to their struggles and see how or what can I do to help them. I always try to help others in any way, because you never know when they will help you back!

If you could get the general public to understand something about refugees and immigrants, what would it be?
I would like people to know why refugees & new immigrants come to Canada. Refugees come to Canada seeking protection, to feel more secure, to forget their past, to start over and to build a brighter future. They face many struggles in their home country; some of them have traumatic experiences that are not easy to overcome: they come from countries that are at war, that discriminated based on religion and sexuality, that do not respect human rights, and engage in torture. So it is good to know what happens in their lives and how we can help them. It is also good that Canada is very welcoming; it is very friendly and very open to new cultures. New immigrants come here to look for a better job, better education and better health care. So if you see someone that is new to Canada, encourage them to never give up, tell them to be strong and to keep fighting for their dreams.