By Gerard Keledjian
Ten years ago Olga Florean bought a book about a butterfly that traveled from Mexico to Lake Ontario. The butterfly faced many troubles on the way and Olga cried every time she read the story to her two daughters. She never imagined that a few years later, she will follow the butterfly and seek refuge in Canada.
Olga was forced to escape the hostile conditions and violence for women in Mexico and take the first flight to Toronto.
“My life is not different from any other immigrant coming to Canada: looking for a better life and better future for my family.” However, reality soon hit when she realized how difficult and long the refugee claim process was. She also understood one of the most important things she and her family needed to know was the local language. She had to overcome this barrier in order to have a basic conversation, find an address, or take the TTC. The other challenge was employment. With no knowledge of English, no Canadian experience, and no references, it was impossible for her to practice her degree in economics she had back from home.
She still remembers the first day when she – depressed, confused, and frustrated – went to the Mennonite New Life Centre to get help to complete her refugee claimant process. The friendly environment and the warm welcome at the Centre gave her the confidence and support to start her long journey to make Canada home. The Centre “was really the key to building my new life.” She attended the Centre’s English language weekend classes and participated with her daughters in mental health support sessions offered there.
Olga wanted to give back to her new family with all her love and her gratitude and so she volunteered. She worked at the Centre’s front desk and then joined the Newcomer Advocacy Committee of the Mennonite New Life Centre, to educate other immigrants on integration, advocacy, and government laws and policies.
She still remembers her first public speech – in English – at City Hall. She told an audience of 200 about her life in Toronto, about the poverty, loneliness and social assistance.
I consider myself part of this big family. It’s my home where I can cry, smile and celebrate. It’s where I found many helping hands that gave me the opportunity to grow and feel confident of my progress and actions.”
For that reason, Olga continues to give back and volunteers with the Centre’s membership engagement board committee. She thinks of other refugees and immigrants like her and wants to tell them to “keep doing, keep working and learning from good experiences as well as bad ones. Keep trying.” As the butterfly from Mexico, Olga and her daughters faced many troubles to come here. With the Mennonite New Life Centre’s help, they are relaxed, happy, and strong. “We made it, we made it!” she says.