Mario Zavala, originally from Honduras, and Roselyn Dulnuan, originally from the Philippines, are two of the many immigrants who have made the Moosomin area home. Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 14:08 Mar 25, 2022

By Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Prior to the government creating a program that focuses on working with newcomers in Southeast Saskatchewan through the East Central Newcomer Welcome Centre Inc, the community of Moosomin has welcomed many newcomers, immigrants and refugees in the past 20 years.  

Here, residents and former residents of Moosomin share their personal experiences of first arriving in Canada, and what their transition was like when moving into the community. They also talk about how a program similar to the East Central Newcomer Welcome Centre would have benefitted them during the time they first came to Moosomin. 

From Cuba to Saskatchewan

Coming from Cuba, Giselle Brito came to Canada in 2008 as a single mother with two young boys.

When she first came to Canada, she arrived in Cabri, a village in Saskatchewan. Brito talked about what her transition of moving to a new country was like, when she first arrived in Canada.

“It sure wasn’t easy, I came here as a single mother, my kids were seven and nine at the time. Finding a job was a little bit hard for me. I lived in Cabri and moved to Moosomin because I didn’t have a job,” she said.

Brito moved to Moosomin where she got a job as an advertising sales representative at the World-Spectator.

After filling in for a maternity leave position, Brito said she was able to find a job afterwards, however, she mentioned that finding a stable income and learning English were two of the biggest challenges she faced when first settling down in Canada.

“With English being a second language it was a problem for me. Also at that time, there were not a lot of immigrants in the community,” she said.

“There were maybe five people that I remember, and even for the community I can guess that it was sometimes hard for them to become familiar with my accent. But from there I felt welcomed in town, everyone was nice to me. I would always receive help from families, and co-workers, my bosses—they were all amazing to me.”

Aside from the community welcoming her with open arms, she said there were not many services in town that assisted with her transition of becoming a permanent resident in Canada.

Brito said the only service she remembers attending in Moosomin was a course for individuals learning English as a Second Language (ESL) at Southeast College.

“There were no services that I knew of at the time, there were very few students in that class as well. Aside from Southeast Regional but there was for sure no settlement organization helping us to settle.”

She said if a program similar to East Central Newcomer Welcome Centre existed when she first came to town, it would have helped her and her family’s transition to Canada.

“It would have helped in so many ways. For example, I knew about the child benefit tax from an informal conversation that I had with another mom in town. I was behind on applying to that program because I didn’t know about it,” said Brito.

“I wasn’t aware of it, I moved to Canada in April 2008, and I heard about the program in October, I was quite late. I know that settlement organizations help people to find jobs, they help people to work with their resumes. I didn’t have that, I had to do it by myself.”

She said learning the process of how to apply for jobs in Canada was new to her, as in Cuba, Brito said individuals do not have to apply for jobs in order to work.

“That for sure was an issue because in Cuba we don’t apply for jobs. Basically in Cuba, after you graduate from university, college or any school, they just place you in a workplace,” she said.

“You don’t apply for jobs, you don’t do interviews, and for sure having that help would have been good for me. 

“Another challenge was English. If I was able to take classes to improve my skills it would have helped. I was lucky because it was a small town and small towns are always welcoming to immigrants, but it would have been nice to have certain activities just for immigrants.”

Currently Brito works at Regional Connections in Manitoba as a learning coach in the language department of the community organization.

“What I do is meet with clients and develop personal learning plans for them. I also help with their registration for classes, according to their language needs and levels.

“A program similar to the newcomer program would benefit future Canadians who are looking to migrate to small communities in Southeast Saskatchewan,” she said. 

“To feel part of the community—I say community even if it’s a big city—is important. You are leaving your family behind, your friends, your home country, your culture, so I would say that it is important because as you adapt to the new life, it’s easier when you have that community rather than having no one or no support to do so.

“The process of adaptation, getting familiar with everything, finally being part of that community, being able to do something for the community as a worker, or as a volunteer, is important. I’m always thankful to the Moosomin community.”

From Honduras and the Philippines to Canada

Mario Zavala and Roselyn Dulnuan came from Ontario to Moosomin in 2012.

Before coming to Canada, Zavala came from Honduras and Dulnuan came from the Philippines.

“When we came here it was because we found an employer here. Through Motel 6, they were hiring jobs in housekeeping and maintenance. That’s when we applied for the job because we didn’t know anyone here,” said Zavala.

He said he and his wife Roselyn came to Moosomin because of the jobs they got in town. 

Roselyn said the owner from Motel 6 helped her become familiar with the town.

“The owner, Josef, from Motel 6, helped us come here. Our first night in Moosomin I came with friends before Mario came to town, and Josef the owner offered us two rooms to stay in for the night,” she said.

“The owner and co-workers from Motel 6 helped us in town before we found friends here. They told us there were other Filipino families in town but we didn’t know them just yet.”

Shortly after, Mario came to Moosomin and the two of them were able to find a permanent home.

Roselyn said one of the biggest challenges of being new to town was not having access to a vehicle, and having to walk to get to places most of the time.

One time she was to the grocery store with her friends, and a lady from the post office offered to drive them home with all of their groceries. Roselyn said she was happy to be in a welcoming and helpful community.

“We worked at the motel as contract workers, until we got our permanent residency, then we started looking for other jobs and we found ourselves enjoying the community,” she said.

“After a few years staying in town, we noticed that people here were very friendly, caring, respectable, and because it was a quiet place, it made us feel like they were very helpful to new people in the community,” said Roselyn. 

Around the time Roselyn first came to Moosomin, she said there was not a dedicated program to help them become familiar with town, but members from the community helped them a lot.

Mario said a program like East Central Newcomer Welcome Centre, which focuses on working with newcomers in Southeast Saskatchewan communities like Moosomin, could benefit future Canadians.

“It’s a good program. For example, in my case when I first arrived in Ontario, you’re new to Canada so you don’t really know much about how to find work here, how you can find a home,” said Mario.

“Those organizations really help to let people know how to do things when you’re new, on how to take the next step of continuing your daily life here in Canada.”

Coming from a city, Roselyn said programs that help newcomers adjust to a small town can certainly play a role for new Canadians staying within the area. 

“In a small town, the people here are basically family to each other. It’s a better community, even if they don’t know you, if they know you need help then they will offer it, or they’ll talk to you and help guide new people.”

Mario said being in this community, he was able to work towards what he has always wanted to do, which is having his own business— Mario Z Construction. 

“That was one of my dreams to have my own business, and I like the field. I’ve been working construction for pretty much half of my life, for 17 years now,” he said.

“I feel like I can grow here because people know you, you can do it in the city too, but I enjoy the small community.”

After working at the motel, Roselyn said she enjoyed helping people and was interested in working as a care aid. She found work in private home care as a full-time health care aid worker.

“I decided to work in home care because I like to help elderly people and anyone else who needs help in my job. I like working in health care. After five years working in that field, I decided to apply at Southeast Integrated Centre in Moosomin as a part timer, and I also continued work part time in CCA long-term care” she said.

“I like the work because it’s my passion, I want to help people who need help and that’s why I moved to a hospital because I feel like when I’m doing my job I always put myself in their shoes. I always feel they are my family. I’m compassionate towards them and make sure I’m providing satisfied care for them, because even if residents are not with their families, I want them to feel as if they are.” 

She said she is grateful to be part of the community. 

“I’m just thankful for the community, for welcoming us before and for the people being friendly, for taking us in like family, especially when you go to the church, when you go to the store and if you need help they guide us. That’s why I want to stay here, because I feel comfortable here, it’s a safe place to live,” said Roselyn.

“Now that we are settled here, we want to help in the community by volunteering when they need help, as long as they let us know.”

Mario said he is fortunate for the opportunities he has gotten from being in town.

“I’m just thankful to Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It’s like they opened the doors for me to come here. I want to say thank you to Josef Tesar too (owner of Motel 6), because he hired me without knowing me, and when I didn’t know anyone here, which was a great opportunity for me,” he said.

“I would like to do the same thing for other people who are coming here. I want to help people because I know what it feels like when I first came here.”

Mario and Roselyn hope to engage in the community more and to be fruitful citizens by giving back to others who helped them.

Transitioning from the Philippines to Moosomin

Leo Ilustrisimo, of GL Apparel and Promotions, came to Canada from the Philippines in 2009. He said his transition to Canada was easier than what he heard from others, as the company he worked for at the time helped with his arrival.

“It was difficult, but we were lucky that the company who hired us from the Philippines, they already brought in a few of my countrymen before, so they had experience on how to handle the first few weeks of being here,” Ilustrisimo said.

“When we went to Service Canada they had the packages of who to contact to get things set up. The companies that we worked for also provided a place to stay for us for the first two months free. In a sense, I guess we were lucky that the first two months were already taken care of, but it’s very rare. I’ve talked to a lot of new immigrants and they don’t have that program in their company.

“Sometimes when you’re the first guy to arrive in a particular town or the first person to arrive in a company, you’re basically by yourself. It’s really difficult because you’re missing your family back home, you’re adjusting to everything new in town, you don’t know anyone besides your co-workers, you don’t have a vehicle.”

Ilustrisimo said he came with two other individuals who were hired by the same company as him, however those individuals got placed at a different location than he did.

“They hired us in the Philippines, we all went for an interview in the Philippines, there were probably hundreds if not thousands of people who applied for that job,” he said.

“They brought 50 to 100 workers into Canada, and then out of that hundred you are designated to different places. In my case, there were three of us, the two guys who came in with me were strangers, I didn’t know them.”

He said when he got to Moosomin, he connected with another Filipino member of the community at the time.

“When we came to Moosomin there was only one Filipino in town. He was the Catholic priest here in Moosomin, Father Dennis. When he found out there were newcomers here in town, he immediately came out to visit us, he took us out, helped with us getting groceries, that sort of stuff. It was really good to talk to someone,”

Ilustrisimo said he also had a co-worker from the community who helped welcome him and get more familiar with the town.

“We were lucky as well because we had a co-worker who really stuck with us, every pay day she would take us to Brandon to get groceries.

“She helped us a lot. There were a few Filipinos at that time in Virden as well, so she would drop us off at Virden. She was a big help to us.”

Ilustrisimo spoke about how a program similar to the newcomer program would have benefited him.

“It will help in a way where instead of discovering the services from someone else, if someone is there telling you from his experience, he might not be able to tell you all the details about the service.

“At the time we would ask someone who knew someone if we needed help with something. If there’s one person who’s job is dedicated to knowing about the services like opening a bank account, then that makes it easier for you to access the services that are offered. But also having a familiar voice from someone who is involved with the community, being introduced to them can open up your connections right away.”

Ilustrisimo said a program like the newcomer program would benefit future immigrants and newcomers in Moosomin, and the surrounding area.

“When you’re new to a place, you’re trying to figure everything out while at the same time you’re adjusting to everything,” he said.

“You’re not only adjusting to your surroundings, the culture and the people, but you’re also trying to figure out what your next steps are for your documents and everything that you need.

“I think a newcomer program would be a great help for people transitioning into Canada. When you’re new, every bit of information helps, every interaction, every connection to familiar faces is a big help.”

After living in Moosomin for 11 years with his family, Ilustrisimo said he is happy to be a part of the community.

“Now, we have established a Filipino community in Moosomin, one of our goals is to help newcomers in the community to get established. We tell them the documents that they need, if they have questions we help them out, we give them pointers on how to get their license, how the financial system works here.

“Through our own initiative we’ve built a community to help the newcomers adjust, and that’s what we felt we could have used when we were new here. So we’re giving those experiences so that it’s easier for them, almost in a way like this program is trying to do.”

This item reprinted with permission from The World-Spectator, Moosomin, Saskatchewan