Spreading the Word About the Accomplishments of Immigrants

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Each year since 1993, Skills for Change – a non-profit organization that provides learning and training opportunities for immigrants and refugees in the Greater Toronto Area – has spread the word about the many, impressive contributions made by new Canadians with their gala New Pioneers Awards (NPA) celebrations.

Through this well-publicized and eagerly attended event, the general public is annually presented with many more reasons for embracing diversity in Canada! The 16th Annual NPAs took place February 28th, 2008 at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre and showcased the accomplishments of immigrants and refugees in six categories. Here is a brief overview of the backgrounds, accomplishments and contributions made by this year’s recipients.

Afshin Ebtekar: 2008 New Pioneers Skills for Change Graduate Award

Soon after landing in Canada in 2000, Afshin Ebtekar enrolled in the Sector-specific Terminology, Information and Counselling (STIC) program for internationally educated engineers at Skills for Change. After graduating, Afshin joined a co-op program, held a temporary job and looked for work – which brought home the reality of job search being a full-time job.

In 2001, Afshin was hired by his current employer, Halsall Associates, as a structural designer; in 2004, he gained his Professional Engineering designation. Now a Project Manager and shareholder with the same company, Afshin has not forgotten the path he had to travel to get there.

As soon as his own employment situation was settled, Afshin started “giving back.” Fully engaged in his profession and community, Afshin exemplifies the strengths and benefits of our multicultural society.

Bernardo Riveros: 2008 New Pioneers Entrepreneurship Award

In 1996, Bernardo Riveros came to Canada from Colombia as an international student. Having fallen in love with this country and its people, he decided to immigrate and in 1998 became a permanent resident. After months of desperately seeking employment, Bernardo decided to join his friend who had just started his own business and became part of the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC).

Today, 10 years later, ILAC is an industry leader in Canada having received a number of awards including the Top Choice Award as the Top Language School of the year in Toronto in 2007 and in 2005 the readers of Eye Weekly Magazine voted ILAC as the best language school in Toronto. In line with Bernardo’s belief in helping newcomers, nearly 80 percent of his staff are new Canadians. If he himself cannot hire a recent immigrant, he taps into his extensive professional network to help the person find a job.

A well-known and respected leader within the Hispanic community in the GTA, Bernardo received the Latin American Business Man of the Year.

Ellen Xi Yang: 2008 New Pioneers Youth Award

When Ellen Xi Yang arrived in Toronto in 2003, she had to overcome three significant barriers to settling in Canada: learning a new language, adapting to a new school, and integrating into Canadian culture. The difficult first step was speaking English with fluency and confidence. Believing that “practice makes perfect,” she worked hard to speak frequently and accurately.

In high school Ellen excelled, earning a number of awards. Behind those achievements, there are late nights of studying and weekends of exploring beyond the textbook. Ellen’s goal is to become a cardiovascular surgeon.

By working to overcome cultural barriers, Ellen has made friends across ethnicities. She comments, “I am very fortunate to be living in a city like Toronto and to be studying at a high school that reflects the city’s multicultural nature.”

Helen Tewolde: 2008 New Pioneers Community Award

During the civil war with Ethiopia, Helen Tewolde’s parents fled Eritrea. Although her father had earned a good living in Ethiopia and later, in Jordan, where Helen was born, he brought his family to Canada, where civil liberties were secure and his children could obtain a strong education.

In Toronto, her parents’ shifting schedules and long hours prompted Helen to early independence. In addition to acting as her family’s advocate and mediator, she has achieved her own educational aims and successfully balanced work alongside undergraduate and graduate studies.

Not only has Helen met the high expectations that immigrant parents place on their children but she has also become a role model to many people. Through her community work, Helen has found that fulfilling cultural duties and excelling in mainstream society are not mutually exclusive options. Helen is a shining example of community spirit in action.

Dr. Jianhong Wu: 2008 New Pioneers Science and Technology Award

Born and educated in China, Professor Wu has lived in Canada since 1998. A talented mathematician and internationally-recognized scientific leader, Professor Wu has made important contributions to mathematics and its applications.

As a faculty member at York University, he faced challenges similar to those experienced by many other immigrants working in Canadian academic communities: teaching students from different educational backgrounds; conducting research projects in different academic and social environments; and developing collaborative opportunities between China and Canada.

Leading a national team of scientists from universities, public health research institutes and government agencies, he has worked on modeling and qualitative analysis of issues of critical importance around infectious diseases. The team’s work is the basis for the establishment of the Centre for Disease Modeling under his leadership.

In 2003, Professor Wu was featured in Toronto Life as one of the “Top 18 Scientists in Toronto.”

Sashar Zarif: 2008 New Pioneers Arts Award

In 1988, Sashar Zarif came alone to Canada as a Stateless Refugee of the United Nations. After escaping from Iran through the mountains, he had spent three years in a refugee camp in Turkey.

Sashar has lived in many different countries, including India and Azerbaijan. He arrived in Canada carrying the traditions of those cultures and the burdens he had witnessed and experienced as a teenager. Despite being alone here, Sashar managed to make up – while working – the three years of schooling he had missed, then went on to study engineering and earn an MA in Dance and Dance Ethnology.

A dancer and an activist, Sashar believes that the artist can create works that “express and promote the human urge towards living in harmony.”

For some recipients, this award is a celebration of a lifetime of dreams that have already been realized and accomplishments that have been achieved. But for many of the recipients, this year’s New Pioneers Award signifies the very beginning of what promises to be long and illustrious careers that will provide opportunities for others and inspiration for the rest of us!

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