Humans of Skills for Change is a series highlighting the driving force and inspiration behind our organization: OUR PEOPLE. Through this online campaign, we are featuring people who we work with and serve at Skills for Change

Skills for Change has been serving immigrants and refugees for over 36 years. Our wide range of programs and services support newcomers, refugees, youth, women, seniors, and job-seekers.  #HumansofSkillsforChange is a celebration and recognition of the unique skills and contributions of the people that we work with and people that we serve.

Consider joining us by donating to our campaign and support our work of building welcoming and equitable communities. 

Kateryna (also known as Kate) is a Marketing and Events Assistant at Skills for Change. Kateryna is a newcomer who moved to Canada from Ukraine three years ago. She began her relationship with Skills for Change as a client by participating in our mentoring program back in March. By June, she joined our marketing team and is now an integral member of our organization.

Back home in Ukraine, Kate was a University lecturer and taught at Donbas National Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture. There, Kate worked with a team on economic research and was also the editorial manager of the Academy’s leading science-based magazine.

Kate says that she has always been equally passionate about both creative design and economics. At Skills for Change, she’s the creative mastermind behind our graphic design work and helps coordinate our events.

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Orpah is a Programs Specialist for the Health Informatics program at Skills for Change. She was born and raised in Kenya and moved to Canada in 2017.

Some of Orpah’s favourite things about her home country are “The People. The Food and The Vibe.”

“I love the energy that Kenyans carry with them. It is hard to describe. It is a feeling!”

Orpah has some surprising revelations about her professional past. “Not a lot of people know this about me because I have tried to keep it hush-hush,” she says (trying not to laugh). “But when I was younger, I had my own nationally broadcasted Television show in Kenya for about four years. I hosted a show called Children’s Variety. Sometimes, as an adult, some people look at me and say ‘you look really familiar’ which is always really funny to me.”

Orpah is also an internationally trained pharmacist by trade and has completed her Master’s Degree in Health Economics and Health Policy. Before joining Skills for Change, she was a Health Policy Analyst at the government level. “I’m very passionate about leveraging policy and technology in the healthcare space. It’s amazing how far technology has come! To use it to effect change in healthcare is inevitable,” she says.

Orpah enjoys time with family and has a big love for animals. She always had pets and she is currently in the process of adopting an adorable little Cornish Rex kitten that she and her husband are planning on naming Solo (a Star Wars reference, of course!)

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Lynda is an Intake Counselor for the ELT Program at Skills for Change. She has an impressive education, including a doctorate degree from l’Université de Montréal.

Lynda was born in Toronto, and when she was only a year old, she moved with her family to a farmhouse in the countryside north of Belleville. Out in the rural Ontario countryside, she attended one of the very last historic two-room schoolhouses in Canada.

Lynda has a long history of teaching and helping others. She started as an academic tutor while she was pursuing her undergraduate studies.

One of her first teaching positions was at an elementary school teaching French for Kindergarten to grade four classes in the small town of Eganville, Ontario.

Soon after that, Lynda went back to school to earn her Ph.D. in Montreal. After successfully completing her doctorate, she went on to become a professor at the University of Windsor and Nipissing University where she taught French.

In April of 2009, Lynda left the teaching world and began her work with Skills for Change as a Language Assessor.

“I feel that I have had a lot of advantages and blessings in my life,” says Lynda, in her typical, serious tone.

“One of these blessings was being born in Canada, and I want to make sure that all newcomers are able to take advantage of the benefits of living in Canada. I have been a teacher, an assessor, and an intake counsellor – the common thread through my life is that I want to be able to help others.”

There’s no arguing that Lynda has a history of helping others through her work. Everyone who knows her knows she’s an excellent teacher and mentor.

In her spare time, Lynda practices martial arts and has earned her second-degree black belt. She’s a true sweetheart, and that black belt means she’ll definitely have your back!

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Barbara is an Employment Counsellor at the Skills for Change Employment Ontario West office. She was born in Lisbon, Portugal and arrived in Canada on Mother’s Day when she was one-year-old. She has been able to travel back and forth between Toronto and Lisbon every year while growing up.

“Sometimes it feels like I am in a limbo. When I am in Canada, people point out my accent ­- and when I am back home, they do the same. So, sometimes, I feel like I do not belong anywhere.”

“But when I am back home in Portugal with my family, I feel like I connect. My roots are there. And when I come back to Canada, I honestly feel like that this is the place where I belong. It’s like having two homes.”

“Toronto is just very fast-paced. It is always about finishing one task and then getting to another. In Portugal, there’s more of an emphasis on taking the time to enjoy family and friends. I miss that component when I am here.”

On Barbara’s 19th birthday, she got a phone call from Skills for Change about an administrative position that she had applied for. She was hired and began her journey at Skills for Change as an Administrative Assistant before becoming an Information Officer. She was then hired as an Employment Advisor and now is a Employment Counsellor at Skills for Change.

“I always feel like the most important aspect of Skills for Change is our focus on helping people and supporting their specific needs. No matter what happens in my day, I remember that one client who has that great success story. And to know that I was a part of that journey, and that interaction and connection, it gives me the energy to do what I do.”

Outside of work, Barbara loves to exercise, cooking and watching cooking shows. In fact, a few years ago she competed on the cooking show “Come Dine with Me” on W Channel!

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Tania is the receptionist and much-loved first face of Skills for Change. While she may have been Canadian born, she also spent a lot of her childhood growing up in Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean. Before she’s even asked to describe it, Tania’s smile brightens as she begins to paint us a picture of her second home.

“It’s so beautiful there,” Tania says, “it’s a small island and everyone knows each other. It’s tropical all year round… we like to boast that we have got three hundred and sixty-five beautiful beaches.”

It happens to be a cold and rainy autumn day in Toronto, but we can almost feel the Antigua sunshine from the way Tania describes it. When asked if she has any plans of visiting again in the future, Tania doesn’t hesitate, “I go home as often as I can,” she says with a smile.

Tania loves helping others and is a self-described people-person. After she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from York University she quickly found work helping others by coordinating nursing and home support for a local community agency. She also gained experience working in the addiction and mental health field in Antigua.

“I love working with the individual and it’s important to me that I can be an advocate for positive change,” she says. This is how she first found herself becoming involved with Skills for Change.

“I first heard of Skills for Change when I returned from Antigua and was researching how to upgrade my skills. I started following the agency and realized that I really believed in what Skills for Change stood for. I loved the idea of working with newcomers and helping them to succeed. That was my motivation for working here. I love to hear the success stories of our clients when they find meaningful work.”

Outside of working with Skills for Change, Tania is also a visual artist. She paints with watercolours and stores her work in the Caribbean.

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Carlos is a Sales and Service Assistant at Skills for Change. Carlos was born in Venezuela and arrived in Canada earlier this year in March.

When asked about what he likes about Canada, Carlos leans in and says, “To be honest with you, I love maple… donuts, cookies and obviously maple syrup.”

Before working at Skills for Change, Carlos worked as a Corporate Manager of a small franchise of urban grocery store in Venezuela. He was in charge of developing the franchise from the ground up and the business became a success, opening five locations across Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela.

However, talking about his home country is difficult for Carlos.

“Due to the social and economic situation in Venezuela, it became too dangerous for my family to live in my home country. My wife and I both left Venezuela in 2014. We moved because it became impossible to live there.”

While Carlos reflects on the difficult times in his home country, he brings focus on the bright and positives of his life.

“I love my wife. I believe we are a living proof that love exists. We were separated by border for almost four years before being reconnected. I lived in New York while my wife was in Canada for all of that time.”

Now they are both in Toronto, starting a new journey together.

“Nothing can stop us,” says Carlos. “We have made it.”

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Vijay James is a Program Administrator for Mentoring and Employer Engagement at Skills for Change. He was born in the city of Chennai in India and relocated with his wife and his two children to Toronto just earlier this year in March. For Vijay, one of the most noticeable differences between Toronto and his home city is the changing seasons.

“Being in Toronto is like being in a completely different realm for me,” says Vijay. “It is magical. I am experiencing the different seasons. I come from a very tropical climate where it is always hot. Here everything changes over a period of time. The changing seasons is something I really love about Toronto.”

Vijay completed his undergraduate degree in Physics and later went on to pursue his Master’s degree in Computer Applications. Vijay’s first job out of University was as an E-Learning Programmer. He was later hired by IBM where he held a number of different positions, including his last role as Project Manager.

During his time at IBM, Vijay also lived and worked in Morocco. It was there that he had an opportunity to work with the world-famous inventor and biologist Adnane Remmal, who won the European Inventor of the Year Award in 2017.

Quickly after landing in Toronto, Vijay was recommended to enrol in the Enhanced Language Training program (now known as Communication for the Canadian Workplace) Skills for Change. It wasn’t long before he found himself becoming further involved in the Skills for Change community. He began volunteering his time with the Marketing team and soon after, Vijay was offered full-time employment at Skills for Change.

“Skills for Change has been very kind to me since the first time I stepped through its doors,” says Vijay. “It is an organization that supports newcomers and refugees. And the staff at Skills for Change really go out of their way to help new immigrants with their settlement need and making them job-ready. We are an industry leader when it comes to settlement services and I think that we are best at what we do.”

When it comes to his passions outside of work, Vijay loves photography and is a complete self-professed foodie. He loves to discover and try all types of international cuisine that the city has to offer!

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Today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. To commemorate the day and the female victims of violence, Skills for Change commits to supporting women to join the movement in eliminating forms of violence against women and girls.

The history of our Agency has a strong grounding in providing supports to women. Skills for Change started 36 years ago as an office training agency for a group of women from Southeast Asia. Since then, our services have grown to include bridging programs, employment services, language training, mentorship, youth and seniors programs and many more. In all these years, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to supporting women and especially women who face multiple barriers to accessing information and resources.

Earlier this year, we launched a new program called Women Connecting with Women, a resource that provides newcomer women with a community of support, information and resources. The program is being lead by Narges, a crisis worker and a counsellor. Narges runs workshops twice a week for new immigrant women from across the Greater Toronto Area. Narges also brings in facilitators and guest speakers on different topics such as as self-care, self-compassion, health and wellness, happiness, mindfulness, art therapy, self-confidence, healthy relationships, etc.

For Narges, this work of supporting newcomer women aligns with her values. Narges is a newcomer herself who came to Canada during her high school years. She studied psychology at Carleton University and then completed her Master’s Degree in Counselling from the University of Ottawa. When searching for roles in supporting new immigrants and refugees, Narges learned about Skills for Change and joined the organization earlier this year to lead the Women Connecting with Women program.

Narges says  “women who come to Canada from other countries are often very skilled but face difficult challenges and multiple barriers which can be very difficult. These are strong and resilient women who have skills, excellent education and amazing personal traits. But they need support because they’re dealing with high levels of stress as they build new lives in Canada. They are improving their English language skills and they are looking for a job while at the same time taking care of families.”

In supporting newcomer women to integrate into the Canadian society, Narges also leads confidential workshops and counselling sessions with women who have faced or are facing trauma and violence and other challenges. Narges shared with us her approach in supporting women survivors who come to her workshops.

“Some women have experienced violence in the past. Although these women are physically safe now, they want to improve their psychological well-being and overcome the effects of their past trauma.  For these women, I use counselling and psychotherapy techniques. I support them in becoming safe and feeling safe. I work with them based on a client-centered approach in line with an anti-oppressive practice. I identify their unique needs and goals and we collaborate from there onwards.”

“For women who are experiencing violence currently or have experienced violence recently, I ensure that they are safe in their environment. With their permission, I connect them with relevant services in Toronto. Skills for Change’s Women Connecting Women equips these women with the knowledge and information they need to make sure that they are safe in their homes and living environments. If a woman needs to move to a safer environment, we are able to connect them with other agencies who can provide her with housing and other resources.”

For Narges, her training and philosophy are based on a humanistic approach. She says that unconditional acceptance is the starting point. She says, “support and counseling requires unconditional acceptance and accepting and respecting each individual as a human being and showing them empathy and understanding. For me, the most rewarding part of my job is when I see the women I serve smile.

Some of my clients come in with a high level of stress and then after a few sessions, they tell me that they feel better and that the sessions have helped them. It is very rewarding for me when I see that my clients embrace and remember their own resilience and strength.”

Women Connecting with Women at Skills for Change is a series of workshops which started in June and runs twice per week. The program addresses the systemic issues of newcomer women who face multi-barriers. The program provides newcomer women with tools and resources to reduce social isolation, increase self-esteem, increase their networks and build confidence. The program also provides access to one on one counselling/crisis counselling, support groups, mentoring, language enhancement and life-skills training. The end goal is for newcomer women to feel empowered and to support their social and economic integration in the Canadian Society. For more information on Women Connecting With Women check out the website and discover upcoming workshops here: https://skillsforchange.org/womenconnect/

If you or anyone you know may be at risk of violence of any kind, here is a list of helpful immediate resources:

  1. Toronto Distress Centres

 (416) 408-4357 OR 911 for Emergency

  1. Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/ Multicultural women against Rape (TRCC/MWAR)

416-597-1171

  1. Assaulted Women’s Helpline

 416-863-0511

  1. Gerstein Centre

416-929-5200

  1. Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic (Counselling and Legal services)

 416-323-9149

  1. Reconnect Community Health Services

 416-248-2050

  1. Mental Health Crisis Response Program

 416-498-0043

  1. Family Service Toronto

416-595-9618

  1. The Redwood Women’s Shelter
    24-Hour crisis line:

 416-533-8538

  1. METRAC(Legal information related to women rights for free on the phone)

 (416) 392-3135

#HumansofSkillsforChange

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Haimanot is an Employment Counsellor at Skills for Change. Haimanot is married and has a beautiful 3-year-old daughter. She was born in Ethiopia and moved to Canada when she was 25 years old.  She still misses the close-knit and intimate community of her home Country.
Before working in the nonprofit sector, Haimanot worked as a nurse.
“It was a blessing. I really enjoyed being a nurse. But when I came to Canada, I realized that I wanted to help youth, so switched my career.”
Helping others is Haimanot’s passion. It’s how she found herself connected with Skills for Change.
“Skills for Change is a place where you can find opportunity. I like new challenges. Because I’ve always tried my best, I’ve been welcomed with new opportunities here.”
Haimanot came to Skills for Change as a client and enrolled in an English Language class. Two years later, Haimanot came back to Skills for Change to complete her Social Service Worker placement and was offered a short-term Receptionist role which led to full-time opportunity. Over the years, she has continued to hold multiple positions at Skills for Change including working as an Information & Referral Counsellor, Settlement Counsellor and Mentoring Program Administrator & Coach. She is currently serving as an Employment Counselor at the Skills for Change’s Employment Ontario Stockyard West office where she helps newcomers and immigrants become job ready.