Josh reflects on his journey from Cuba to New Brunswick

Josh, right, with his family exploring the coast of New Brunswick.

Every day in Canada, Josh Mesa says, is like “heaven.”

After years of coping with uncertainty and struggling to make ends meet for his family as a refugee and labourer in Trinidad and Tobago, Josh, a successful TalentLift candidate now working for Area52 in New Brunswick, says he can’t stop counting his blessings.

Originally from Cuba, Josh and his wife Amy worked for many years as accountants before deciding that the economic crisis in Cuba would never allow their family to thrive, let alone be conducive to a minimum standard of living.

They made the decision to flee Cuba in 2018 and became refugees in Trinidad and Tobago, where they could not find work other than casual labour, stocking shelves, and picking fruit. It took Josh and Amy two years to save enough wages to purchase a laptop, after which he promptly began enrolling in programming and coding courses so that he could apply for better work and possibly immigrate. “I wanted a better life for my family, and especially my daughter,” he says.

However, even with their hard work in Trinidad and Tobago and Josh’s in-demand technology skills, finding a pathway to a better life proved incredibly difficult. The couple tried for many years to seek out different forms of migration. On December 2, 2021, after grueling years of working casual, physical jobs without formal refugee status, they felt they had run out of options and booked plane tickets to Central America, with the intention of walking to the US or Canada and claiming asylum.

Fortunately, fate intervened. The very next day, on December 3 (a date Josh says he’ll never forget), the Canadian government announced another phase of an economic mobility pathway program that Josh and Amy qualified for, despite their lack of official status. In the months after, Josh connected with Area52, an innovative New Brunswick-based company that helps seafood processing companies automate their workflow. After conducting interviews, they were impressed with Josh’s technical and programming expertise, and his bright, warm personality, but unclear on how to facilitate a move to Canada.

After connecting with TalentLift staff, who provided guidance and support on the paperwork, Area52 felt confident enough in the sponsorship process to offer Josh employment and make his move to Canada happen, along with his wife and daughter.

Three years after they first found out Canada could be an option for them, the family is now thriving. At first, Josh was concerned his daughter, who is in grade seven, would struggle to fit in because of her lack of English. But now he says, almost a year after their move, she chats fluently with her new friends and is learning guitar on an instrument given by one of Josh’s coworkers as a ‘Welcome to Canada’ gift. Amy began to study and became licensed in financial planning. She’s working with an insurance company while studying for further qualifications in the field.

When asked to reflect on how much their life has turned around in the past ten months, after years of struggle in Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, Josh says it’s difficult to express the entirety of his emotions. “TalentLift was a blessing for us; they reached us at the moment when we most needed it.”

He hopes more Canadian employers will connect with TalentLift to learn how they can take on more employees from refugee situations. “When TalentLift takes on a candidate, they will do anything for them. The team is so humble, kind and confident. I feel like they’re family, and they treat us likewise.”

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Beyond reading: TalentLift and Hoot Reading partnership helps newcomer kids thrive

Sam (right) with his Dad Wael

Sam’s favourite books are about dogs, and he likes reading them with Ms. Melissa.

It’s an impressive feat for a 4-and-a-half-year-old to already be reading, but even more so when one considers that Sam and his family have only been in Canada for six months.

Arriving from Syria on a cold January day, Sam and his family had only just settled into Vaughan, Ontario before he began kindergarten. The first couple of weeks were a struggle for Sam — not knowing any English meant that socializing and following along in class was difficult and intimidating.

Sam’s father, Wael, had been recruited to work as a Cabinetmaker in Vaughan through TalentLift, which connects people living in refugee situations with employers and supports their immigration to Canada. Though Wael had studied English in school and was confident in the language, Sam hadn’t had a chance to learn while the family lived in a refugee situation. 

Needing to catch up on his English, Sam was connected with Ms. Melissa, a teacher and part of the Hoot Teacher Network. Hoot Reading is an online tutoring service that provides evidence-based, 1:1 literacy instruction for children. Sam was referred to Hoot Reading through their partnership with TalentLift.

In November, Hoot Reading and TalentLift committed to delivering the Rising Readers program, a 1:1 literacy instruction program, to 200 children from newcomer families arriving from refugee situations. Sam is one of those children who is currently benefiting from the Rising Readers program, which includes 15 reading lessons delivered by qualified educators in Hoot Reading’s Teacher Network.

The program is funded through the ScotiaRISE Initiative, Scotiabank’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to funding programs that promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups.

Hoot Reading was founded in 2018 with a mission to change children’s lives through literacy. Their innovative app was incubated at the Nokia Research Lab with Sesame Workshop (the creators of Sesame Street) and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Today, they develop solutions to improve literacy outcomes for diverse populations across North America. 

Long before the pandemic necessitated scalable solutions for online learning, Hoot’s evidence-based approach to providing literacy tutoring was pioneering flexible, individualized reading interventions by qualified teachers.

Maya Kotecha, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Hoot Reading, says the collaboration with TalentLift to serve newcomer children has two very important personal connections.

First, as a parent of two young children, Maya says she has seen the consequences that reading and literacy difficulties can have on a child’s confidence and overall educational progression. Second, as the daughter of immigrants to Canada, she has first-hand knowledge of the massive burdens with which newcomers to the country are faced, and how English fluency and literacy can greatly benefit economic and social outcomes for their families.

By targeting school-aged children from refugee situations like Sam, Hoot Reading and TalentLift are helping newcomer children more easily integrate into their schools and social groups, thriving in their new communities.

Having spent the first part of the year paired up with his teacher Ms. Melissa, doing online lessons three times a week, Sam’s English reading and speaking levels have vastly improved. Sam says he likes to do counting activities with Ms. Melissa, and exercises that involve “pigs, cats, birds, and the colour red.”

According to Wael, “the program has been very useful because now Sam is much more confident in his pronunciation of English words, and he is motivated to keep learning to read.”

“He now knows what his teacher (at his school) is telling the class, and he’s excited to be there and to make new friends.”

Sam agrees. “I like playing soccer with my friends,” he giggles. “And going to the library with Dad.”

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

“Nursing is a form of love,” Abapi shares her journey to St. John’s

Abapi, a Nurse from Cameroon, will be relocating to work with Chancellor Park in Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo by Will O’Hare.

“You can’t sit down with me for more than a couple of minutes without me telling you that I’m a nurse,” says Abapi, calling from her home in Abuja, Nigeria. “Because when I let people know I’m a nurse, I’m indirectly letting them know I love, I care, and I have compassion, and whatever needs you have, you can share with me.”

“There’s no human being on earth that doesn’t need a nurse in their lifetime.”

For Abapi, nursing is more than a profession, it’s an intrinsic component of her identity – influencing everything from the way she talks to people on the street to how she derives meaning in her life.

Originally from Cameroon, Abapi fled after civil war and insecurity made it nearly impossible to do the work she loved. Militants took over the hospitals she worked at and harassed medical staff at their homes, and she worried about her future and the safety of her young niece.

So together, they made the long journey to Nigeria, where Abapi had hoped the stability would offer a fresh start for the two of them. Unfortunately, she says, “life in Nigeria is intimidating – it was very difficult to get a license to practice, and coming from Cameroon, I have to work for less pay than other nurses.”

“At some points, I even started selling fruit on the street to make ends meet.”

Despite the challenges, she still volunteered her skills to other people living in refugee situations, travelling around Nigeria to provide free healthcare in internally displaced and refugee camps.

While filing her own refugee status paperwork one day, she was chatting with an administrator in the office who had a runny nose. Offering some advice as a nurse, the administrator asked why she didn’t consider moving to a place like Canada, which needed caring nurses like Abapi.

“I had never thought that I could practice nursing abroad,” she says. “Leaving my refugee situation felt like an impossible task.”

Someone else in the office overheard, and recommended she look at TalentLift. Abapi says she assumed trying to immigrate to Canada would be prohibitively expensive, so she was surprised when she learnt that employers in Canada might be willing to sponsor her journey. She specifically zeroed in on Canada because, as she says, “I know that Canadians are really friendly, and they really respect nurses and appreciate what we do.”

After interviewing and conversations with her niece, who is now 15-years old, Abapi decided to take an offer from Chancellor Park, a long-term care facility in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Like many healthcare providers, and especially those based in the Maritimes, Chancellor Park had struggled to recruit staff locally.

That shortage of talented healthcare staff had led Chancellor Park to recruit staff multiple times through TalentLift. When Abapi arrives in the coming months, she’ll join several colleagues who have likewise left refugee settings to start a new life in St. John’s.

Through working with all ages and abilities as a general practice nurse, she developed a passion for elder care while caring for her own grandmother at the end of her life. She says the experience reinforced her view that being a nurse is as much about love and compassion as it is about medical care.

She’s looking forward to bringing that same zeal for building connections with Chancellor Park’s elderly residents. “I want to help make it one of the best senior’s homes in St John’s, and have all our patients recommend it.”

“I am so grateful for TalentLift for the inception of this idea to help refugees like me. My hope was lost for a while before TalentLift,” Abapi says.

“Thank you for seeing the potential in me.”

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

A passion for care and inclusion, from Kakuma to Durham

Sabri, a Nurse from Sudan, will be relocating to Durham, Ontario. Photo by Will O’Hare.

“For me,” says Sabri, “being a nurse is not just a profession, but it is a calling – filled with countless rewards and fulfilling experiences.”

Speaking from his home in the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, Sabri Musa, a healthcare professional and father of two small children is reflecting on the career that he has shaped his life around, and the journey it is about to take him on.

In a couple of months, Sabri and his family will move to Durham, Ontario, so that Sabri can begin working as a Personal Support Worker for SE Health, a national not-for-profit healthcare provider that operates in private homes, community care homes, long-term care homes, and hospitals across Canada.

Sabri first connected with SE Health through TalentLift, which he learnt of while searching for opportunities to use his healthcare skills abroad on LinkedIn. Having fled Sudan years ago, he knew that opportunities for people with refugee status in Kenya could be limited, and was looking to raise his children in Canada, where they could have a better foundation. Authorities created Kakuma camp in 1992 initially to house people who left Sudan for safety, but it persists today, and is home to more than 200,000. 

After interviewing with SE Health, Sabri accepted an offer to join their team as a Personal Support Worker at a care home in Durham, working with elderly people. The role, he says, will align well with his passion for providing support to patients of all ages who have conditions related to mental health, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), autism, Cerebral Palsy and others.

No matter the patient’s needs, Sabri says the most rewarding aspect of his work is being able to provide companionship in what can be difficult moments for his patients. “I always wish to make people feel better with my companionship and interactions. Making meaningful connections with patients on a personal level, understanding their needs, and being there for them is my rejoice,” he says.

While working as a special needs and physical therapy caregiver in Kakuma throughout the past years, Sabri has made it a priority to consistently upgrade his skillset, taking courses in art therapy, counselling skills, and conflict resolution. “Promoting healing by offering emotional support is a crucial role for a caregiver, and I never dreamed of how much it could improve individual well-being.”

Advocating for the inclusion of people with disabilities in Kakuma and in Kenyan society more broadly has also been an important part of Sabri’s journey as a caregiver. Having seen the impacts of ableist discrimination through his patients’ experiences, he worked with others in the camp to hold an awareness campaign about inclusion and disability rights.

He’s planning to take on more learning opportunities when he arrives in Canada. 

“I look forward to advancing my career growth opportunities by joining training and education programs. Being in a workplace with diversity and inclusion at SE Health will help me to grow as an individual,” he said, noting that it’s not just about his own learning and success. “It’s about improving my work and living so that my children will have better access to education and health care.”

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

Watching their daughters thrive: Najeebullah and Shukria’s Journey to Canada

Najeebullah and Shukria, with their daughters, arrive in Toronto in April.

For Najeebullah, the long, arduous journey from Afghanistan to Canada has been worth it to see the laughter and smiles on his daughters’ faces as they cruise around the first playground they’ve ever had the chance to play on.

An electrical engineer by training, Najeeb and his wife and daughters were forced to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, seeking refuge in Pakistan. Mid-way through a master’s degree in electrical engineering and involved in several community initiatives in Afghanistan, the transition to life in Pakistan was not easy. Najeeb was not qualified to work as an engineer in the new country, and uncertainty over the future for his wife Shukria, and their daughters hung over him.

In early 2022, at a virtual career fair put on by a humanitarian group looking to support Afghan refugees, Najeeb learnt about TalentLift. For years, he had worked with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, an NGO that advocates for women’s rights and education in Afghanistan. He knew from his work with the non-profit that Canada would be a better place for his daughters to grow and thrive, and now he had the chance to use his talents and education to get them there.

After careful consideration with Shukria, Najeeb interviewed for, and ultimately accepted an engineering position with Finest Telecommunication, a fibre-optic installation firm in London, Ontario.

A little more than one year later, in April 2023, Najeeb and his family landed in Canada, greeted by the Finest Telecommunication team and TalentLift staff member Zahra’a. 

For Najeeb, it was a relief to be able to use his education and training again with Finest Telecommunication, installing and repairing fibre optic cables at job sites across southern Ontario. “It was a gift for me to be back to work in my field, and to learn new things in the field of fibre in Canada,” he says.

His colleagues have been incredibly welcoming and supportive as he and his family settle in. Najeeb and Shukria have now earned their driver’s licenses, and she is taking English lessons at the local YMCA, which provides childcare for their youngest daughter. As a fashion designer and skilled tailor back in Afghanistan, she is hoping to open up her business again soon.

Their eldest daughter, now seven years old, struggled in her first month of school in London, but now Najeeb says, “she’s coming home from school every day telling me about a new best friend and all the things she learned in gym class.”

These sorts of opportunities for women could not be possible for his family back in Afghanistan, and that fact has motivated Najeeb’s continued involvement in education and women’s rights causes. Back in Afghanistan, he helped to co-found the Dehkada Library, a rural library and education centre which promotes literacy for all genders. The library is supported a variety of donors including Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, which Najeeb continues to work for, organizing fundraisers and awareness events, and coordinating a program for virtual learning for Afghans, called Darakht-e Danesh.

Even though the family has only been in Canada for a couple of months, Najeeb and Shukria have begun to take on a leadership role in the community, getting ready to welcome new Afghan families to London this summer.

Their schedule is busy, between Najeeb’s work with Finest Telecommunication, and Shukria’s English lessons. But they still find time to relish the freedom of life in Canada. “Our girls make sure we spend a lot of time at the playground, dancing and playing”.

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

A new life for a young family

Abdulaziz with his daughter. Abdulaziz will be working as a CNC Machine Operator with Allstone Quarry Products in Schomberg, Ontario. Photo by Will O’Hare.

For Abdulaziz, an upcoming move to Ontario is about more than a career-related relocation: it’s about creating a fresh start and building a future for his young children.

Originally from Syria, Abdulaziz was once an economics student in Aleppo before the Syrian civil war turned the country upside down, forcing Abdulaziz to seek refugee status in Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Unable to resume his studies in Iraqi universities due to discrimination against migrants and upheaval due to the encroachment of Daesh in Northern Iraq, Abdulaziz says he was searching for a way to support his wife Ruqaya, and their young family, and to build a sense of normalcy.

Looking to train as a skilled tradesperson, he found he had a knack for programming and carving as a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machinist and Fabricator. The role, which involves automating the work of machine tools through the use of computer software, is an in-demand skill in industries that manufacture metals, stone, and plastic. At a factory in Erbil, Abdulaziz rose up the ranks to manage a team of seven, and even take on a sales capacity.

But even as he progressed in his career, Abdulaziz was not certain Iraq was where he and Ruqaya wanted to raise their son and daughter. So he sought out opportunities for migration for skilled workers, and ultimately connected with TalentLift through partner organization Talent Beyond Boundaries.

His proficiency with CNC machine work, and his experience running a factory is what made Abdulaziz stand out to a number of employers in the TalentLift network – and particularly Allstone Quarry Products. Based out of Schomberg, Ontario, Allstone produces and sells stone products like tile and brick for builders and landscapers. Shortages of skilled labour, particularly in the trades, has long been a stumbling point for industrial employers in Canada. Allstone in particular was in need of a skilled stone carver, and had likewise connected with TalentLift to seek out qualified CNC Machinists. After interviewing with the Allstone team, Abdulaziz received a job offer, and the chance at a new life in Canada for himself and his family.

For Abdulaziz, the question of uprooting his life once again was not easy. He had intentionally sought out opportunities to move his young family to a more peaceful country, but when the offer came in, it was still an emotionally fraught decision for him and Ruqaya to make. As a father, Abdulaziz knew that life in Iraq for people living under refugee circumstances comes with harsh difficulties, including political instability and discrimination against people with refugee status.

“But moving to a different country, it’s a very difficult thing,” Abdulaziz said, reflecting on how much his life has changed since moving from Aleppo ten years ago. “But I can do difficult things.”

Ultimately, it was Abdulaziz’s young family who inspired him to take the leap and sign on for the move to Schomberg, Ontario to work for Allstone. With a three-year old daughter and five-year old son, Abdulaziz says he and Ruqaya were highly motivated to have their kids experience quality public education. Once he’s settled in, Abdulaziz says he too might explore ways to pick up where he left off in his economics education, a passion he says hasn’t left him since his student years.

He’s also particularly excited that his kids will get to know his brother and his cousin in Ottawa, who like so many in the Syrian diaspora, have been separated for years amidst the war.

Abdulaziz says his relatives offered the greatest encouragement for him to take the job offer, after they spoke so highly about life in Canada for young families. “My children are the most important thing in my life right now, and I wanted them to live in a country that really cares about their futures.”

“Refugees like me are so grateful to the companies that give them a chance, and they will also give their best to Canada and to these companies.”

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.