The winters may be a little too cold for their liking, but immigrants Saba Tedros and Sundus Kafaear say they are settling in quite well here, thanks in part to the Parkdale Intercultural Association (PIA).
Tedros from Eritrea and Kafaear from Turkey said they have found a community in Canada and are working toward becoming Canadian citizens and attending college, all with the help of the staff and services at PIA.
For the past 35 years the PIA has played a vital role in facilitating settlement and integration for newcomers.
The non-profit community-based organization provides free settlement programs and services to refugees and new immigrants, and engages in community development that builds on the rich diversity of Parkdale.
Tedros and Kafaear, both Parkdale residents, said they come to PIA regularly to improve their English and hopefully get more education.
“I try to take as many courses as I can,” Tedros said. “After that I want to go to college and takes courses. I want to work with children.”
Hundreds of people pass through PIAs door each year and in 2012 they provided 7,767 client interactions.
“There are secretaries, office workers and teachers and when I have a problem with papers for the government or I need housing they help me,” Kafaear said. “They are very nice people here. All smiles here.”
Parkdale Intercultural Association, formerly the Parkdale Intercultural Council, grew out of the Parkdale Library in the 1970s, under the leadership of Rita Cox.
It was established in response to the needs of new immigrant groups and in the beginning it was run out of a small office in the basement of the Parkdale Library with just one part-time staff member, but many more volunteers.
Office manager Marek Kurek has been with PIA for more than 15 years.
“For starting life here we are vital for this community,” Kurek said.
They now have two offices at 1257 Queen St. W. and 1365 Queen St. W. and more than 30 staff and offer programming designed to respond to issues and challenges the community has such as education, language barriers, access to health care and barriers to services.
“PIA does play an important role in terms of servicing the diverse community here because we do have the services and our staff speak the languages,” said settlement program manager Tsering Norzom Thonsur. “We speak more than seven languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, Tibetan, Polish, Vietnamese, Hindi, Tamil, Hungarian. We speak a lot of the languages that people in the neighbourhood speak so that is why they come here.”
PIA operates as a drop-in centre of sorts as well and people come by when they need help with things like their resume or job search. Programs are diverse and Thonsur said they do their best to help the clients who come to PIA.
“Everyone who comes here is served to the best of our ability,” Thonsur said. “And our staff are friendly so I guess that is why people come back to us.”
They provide settlement services through Citizen and Immigration Canada including language courses, workshops for newcomers and information sessions.
PIA also provides programming through the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration like newcomer information and orientation, referrals to community agencies, interpretation and translation, immigrations and application filing and free Internet and computer resources.
It also collaborates closely with area organizations like Parkdale Community Health Centre and Parkdale Legal Services.
Parkdale is often referred to as the “landing strip” of Toronto, where new immigrants come when they first arrive in Canada. Executive Director of PIA Michael Nguyen said that makes the PIA a perfect match for the community.
“We fit into Parkdale perfectly because this is a transition area and that is why we have a lot of clients coming to us and a high demand for our services,” Nguyen said.
The association’s greatest challenge, he said, is securing stable multi-year funding “in order for us to properly plan out our services and have the proper staff in place so we can successfully deliver our services to clients.”
PIA celebrated their 35 Annual General Meeting on Friday Jan. 25.