Immigrant Stories – Sohan Koonar

Immigrant Stories Canada Immigration

Meet Sohan Koonar, in our #ImmigrantStories series, aimed at informing and inspiring immigrants to arrive, settle and succeed in Canada.

A trained physiotherapist, Sohan Koonar had a lot of options when he wanted to leave India in the early 1970s. He had job offers from multiple countries, but the then-Canadian prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, really impressed him. “I came to Canada highly, 99 per cent influenced by Mr. Trudeau, My immigrant experience was extremely easy and inclusive,” he says.

More than 40 years later, he has had a career in physiotherapy, patented a medical device, and published his first novel. He said that Indians who immigrated to other Commonwealth countries at the time were wary of racism, but he didn’t figure that would be an issue in his new home. He urged new immigrants not to be wary of smaller cities, saying Maritimers are the friendliest people he’s ever met. The day after he arrived in Saint John, N.B. in 1973, completely on his own, he was already on the job at Saint John General Hospital.

He’s been married almost as long, to a Italian woman named Nadia. The two have three children — Sara, David and Michael, as well as two grandchildren. “We let them be your typical Canadian kids without having to live in two different worlds.” — Sohan Koonar His daughter, Sara, is glad for her mixed identity. She said she thinks it made her more open-minded. But while she grew up feeling both Sikh and Catholic, Italian and Indian, she says her parents were also eager to integrate. “I think my parents both really embraced Canadian culture,” she says. She grew up around her dad’s large, protective Indian family, who had all moved to Canada by the time she was five or six.
Sohan said raising children in Canada was different than in India — even next-door neighbours were often strangers. His worst fear was that his kids would get into drugs, but he thinks that having family around as well as embracing their friends kept them out of trouble.


Source Huffington Post

Immigrant Stories – Vathsala Illesinghe

Vathsala-Immigrant Stories Canada

Meet Vathsala Illesinghe, in our #ImmigrantStories series, aimed at informing and inspiring immigrants to arrive, settle and succeed in Canada.

After moving to Canada in 2013, however, she quickly found that her previous experiences didn’t hold much weight here. A couple of months into her journey as a Canadian, she found herself in the same position emotionally as many of the women she had fought so hard in her career to help.

“I quickly realized that if I wanted to make my previous work experience relevant, I needed to go back to school. So, I went back to school for a PhD in social sciences, making quite a significant career shift,” she says.

in 2017, she received one of 15 Pierre Elliott Trudeau doctoral scholarships. She is the first-ever Ryerson University student to receive this prestigious three-year scholarship, and its funding will support her research, community engagement and knowledge dissemination. Specifically, Illesinghe is focused on “understanding immigrant women’s vulnerability to violence and how immigration policies shape that experience.”

“In an ideal world, I would like to see women being treated as equal to men, and when they apply to become immigrants, I would like to see their education, skills and the type of work they have done pre-migration recognized as equally important as men’s.”

Speaking to immigrant women directly, she says: “If I could share one piece of experience, I would say don’t adjust to your new reality in a way that closes doors on yourself. Learn about your new country and the language because they can help navigate the challenges of resettlement, but it is also important to find relevance for your previous life experiences and work. What you have done before and where you are from are important, and it is because of those experiences that you should be valued, not despite them.”

Source Canadian Immigrant, Photo by Clifton Li

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed embraces Canadian life

Canadian Immigrant Stories

A Saudi teen who fled her allegedly “abusive” family and has been granted refugee status in Canada has been sharing images of her new life in Toronto. She hit the headlines after fleeing her family in Saudi Arabia and barricading herself in a hotel room in Thailand to avoid deportation. It is a world away from her previous life in Saudi Arabia and the week she spent in limbo after fleeing to Thailand, where she barricaded herself into a hotel room and used Twitter to alert the world to her situation. 

Rahaf Mohammed has told Canadian media she’ll work in support of women’s freedom around the world. Looking forward to her new life, Rahaf, said she wants to be independent, travel and make her own decisions on education, on a career and who she will marry.

Source Reuters, BBC

Immigrant Stories – Sharmarke Dubow

Immigrant Stories British Columbia

Meet Sharmarke Dubow in our #ImmigrantStories series, aimed at informing and inspiring immigrants to arrive, settle and succeed in Canada.

Sharmarke was eight years old when his mother put him and his sister on a boat fleeing strife in Somalia. They crossed the Indian Ocean by moonlight and landed at Mombasa, Kenya, where he lived in a tent and camp for five years with hundreds of others. Now he’s the city councilor in British Columbia, Canada.

“When I became a Canadian citizen, I felt I have a home, I have rights and responsibilities, It was all about me having a second chance at life, belonging to a country and being a proud Canadian. Canada gave me a safe home after 20 years of being homeless. We have a system that works, that will protect my rights regardless of my sexuality, my race, my background, and I am able to sleep and not worry about bullets coming through my wall.”

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Immigrant Stories – Spotlight

Meet Indian-born Nazreena Anwar-Travas, in our #ImmigrantStories series, aimed at informing and inspiring immigrants to arrive, settle and succeed in Canada.

“Four-and-a-half years after arriving, as I took my oath of citizenship, I realized how quickly time had flown. From a nervous nail-biting immigrant, I had grown to be the person whom I was. From the very first job, to the first Tim Hortons coffee to the first snowfall … yes, everything had played an important role in shaping me as a person. My mind goes to one of my favorite quotations: “For everything you have missed; you have gained something else, and for everything you gain; you lose something else. It is about your outlook toward life; you can either regret or rejoice.

I choose to rejoice — because, somewhere in these six years in Canada, I have actually found my way home!