An Unexpected Path: Refugee finds new home and vocation in small Canadian town

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Soft-spoken with a strong, positive spirit, Torraga has overcome hardships many of us cannot imagine. Before he came to Canada as a refugee, Torraga had been uprooted so many times throughout his life that he could not claim a first language–he simply knew a little of all the dialects he needed to use while moving between Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan to survive the ongoing violence in the region.

Torraga was grateful and relieved to find refuge in Canada, but there were significant challenges here as well. Learning the cultural norms was harder than he expected, and the winters were unimaginably cold! Torraga had little formal work experience and a Grade Seven education, which limited his options for work in Canada. On top of all of this, Torraga has a hole in his heart, which causes him respiratory issues. Here in Winnipeg, he was next on the waiting list for surgery, but it was postponed due to complications.

Torraga is thriving in his new job, and feels supported by his employer and his community.

Torraga found his way to OFE while looking for work. He was fully aware that his barriers–limited work experience and education, and a medical heart condition–would make his job search more challenging, and he needed a guide. I was assigned as Torraga’s Employment Consultant, and we discussed his Employment Development Plan: the creation of an action plan tailored to him, with the goal of securing employment. Upon meeting Torraga, I knew that Friesens could be a great fit.

Friesens is a print manufacturer based in Altona, a small community in southern Manitoba with a population of less than 5,000. Friesens is well-known as a company that gives equal opportunity to job seekers, and an employer who believes and invests in its employees. I knew this could be a hard sell–it would mean Torraga would have to uproot once more. It took Torraga some time to consider this as an option, but soon, I had him connected with our in-house Employer Liaison to explore how we could make this happen.

Applying at Friesens meant a screening interview with the Employer Liaison, attending a job-specific skills training at OFE, and attending a work exposure tour at Friesens in Altona. This is part of a program offered at OFE which provides short-term training with the goal of placing participants directly with growing employers. Torraga passed the initial screening, and finished his training with perfect attendance and punctuality. His facilitator reported that he always showed up prepared for the day’s tasks. He responded positively to feedback about his work, and took initiative by practising what he learned in class, and even at home. Torraga was clearly a strong candidate for Friesens, and shortly after completing the training, he received his official letter of employment.

Recently, I called Torraga to check in on his move and his new job. He was so enthusiastic and grateful that he took the leap with OFE to uproot once more and land in this welcoming community. We are ecstatic for him, particularly because of Friesens’ core values of investment, growth and development opportunities for their employees. Torraga once remarked to our intake staff, “My brain will not forgive me if I do not finish my studies,” as he shared his personal stories of teaching himself how to read and write. Friesens can help Torraga with further training and give him the opportunity and stability to grow–another clear reason why Torraga and Friesens make a great fit.

Torraga’s story is a wonderful example of a risk paying off. Coming to Canada, Torraga never imagined he would be working at a printing company in a small rural town. However, he kept his mind open, gathered trusted advisors around him, and found his unique, unexpected, fulfilling path. Which unconventional paths might you need to explore?

Author: Jennifer Lavina, Facilitator

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