Luis Mata: Settlement and Employment Counsellor, Mennonite New Life Centre

We serve mostly Hispanic communities, but we.

We serve mostly Hispanic communities, but we have clients from everywhere.

I come from Colombia, where I had experience working with internal refugees and in human rights issues, documenting cases, doing research and documenting human rights violations. I was a Spanish teacher, and I took five years of law and political science at the Universidad Libre in Cali, Colombia, but I couldn’t finish. I had to flee after I published a book that documented at least 600 cases of people who were killed or disappeared or victims of political violence. Ten years ago I came to Canada as a refugee.

In Canada, I studied ESL and began working survival jobs. I drove a truck. I was cleaning, too, working in banquet halls and in construction installing drywall. As my English became better, I took the best training I’ve taken in my life – the certificate in refugee and migration issues at York University. It helped organize my skills, knowledge and experience in a new field.

I focused on immigration issues because of my background working with internal refugees in Colombia. I’m a refugee myself, and I faced many barriers and challenges when I came to Canada. So I was well informed about the realities. You have to reinvent yourself. What does it mean not speaking English? How hard is it to apply for social services?

Continuing education is well designed because it’s short, and many professionals who come to Canada don’t have all the time and all the money to take a long training program. It’s designed according to the reality of professional newcomers.

I really enjoy teaching people about Canada, Canadian politics, Canadian history, Canadian symbols and cultures and rights. I’m happy that citizenship is one of my responsibilities.

A good settlement worker has the kindness, wisdom and humility to understand the suffering of others. We receive refugees and immigrants from around the world, people who are living in isolation, fear and also hunger. You must have a capacity to work together with these newcomers, because working together means understanding everything – every need and all the possibilities these people have.

Newcomers bring knowledge, wisdom, dreams. Some are artists and poets, ordinary simple people full of dreams. Working with them involves understanding their situation and aspirations, but also understanding the possibilities in the city. You must coach them to navigate those possibilities.

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