Everyone belongs here: charity advocates for newcomers to Canada

Photo courtesy of DIVERSEcity

Surrey-based non-profit organization DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society empowers newcomers and other diverse communities to build the life they want in Canada.

Through efforts like the recent Bundle Up Campaign which provided warm clothes, food staples and more for local refugee families, it champions diversity and inclusion for all, with a clear message: everyone belongs here.

Being a voice

With a history dating over 40 years in Surrey and the Lower Mainland and a promise to welcome newcomers with open arms, DIVERSEcity has been offering free, multilingual services in language, settlement, employment and counselling, with initiatives such as the RISE program.

Standing for “Refugee & Immigrant Specialized Experience,” the RISE Program is close to “a mentoring program” explains Hermon Lay, case counsellor at DIVERSEcity. It provides support to adult and youth newcomers who are experiencing complex and multiple challenges in settling into their new community: “We advocate for them. We go out with our clients, teaching and supporting them on how to do things on their own.”

A former refugee from Burma himself, Lay was exiled in Thailand where he spent some of his childhood years before immigrating to Canada at a young age. Working for the past 10 years with DIVERSEcity serving vulnerable populations and refugees, he is fluent in four languages and breaks down some of the services the RISE program provides:

“Disability, mental health, access to healthcare, school, landlords, legal issues, a little bit of everything. We are a voice for our clients,” he says. “We refer them to experts and support them with their needs.”

Running is not a choice

Refugees and newcomers are faced with many challenges when relocating to an entirely new part of the world.

“Some of the clients, especially kids, don’t even know where Canada is,” explains Lay. Without a firm grasp of the English language, these challenges can be found in many aspects of life, from transportation to accessing health services.

“Some have never been to the city or to urban areas, so we have to teach them how to take a bus to access the hospital. Then what about the language? As a case counsellor we advocate for the client, we teach them about the systems that they will be able to access,” he adds.

Speaking about refugees and particularly about the Karen population, an ethnic group from Burma (Myanmar) facing religious and ethnic persecution by their government and which he primarily works with, Lay insists that “running is not a choice,” but focuses on the positive side, evoking what he’s witnessed over the past decade working with vulnerable populations: “They are strong, resilient, and are just people like you and me,” he comments. “They’re now far away from persecution, they have a better life, so if they work hard on it – I’ve seen the success stories! – they will be able to integrate. The children can go to school and get into college.”

A beacon of hope

Asked about Canada and its international image as a welcoming country, Lay is quick to reply.

“It is! I have experienced it myself!” and goes on to highlight the gratitude of the Karen people to the Great White North. “There are still Karen people in refugee camps in the Karen state who are not safe, so we would like to thank the government for supporting the Karen people.”

The case counsellor insists on thanking the Canadian government, emphasizing that government assistance brings a great deal of help to refugees and to the newcomers DIVERSEcity is helping, and acknowledges the appreciation for being here.

“We are happy to be here because this is a safe place” before concluding, once again on an optimistic note. “We want to focus on the positive side: We are out of war-torn zones, in a free country. Let’s enjoy! This is Christmas!,” Lay says.

For more information, please visit www.dcrs.ca.