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Making a real difference

By Elisia Cianco

Each year at Convocation, President David Agnew challenges Seneca’s graduating class to not only be successful professionals but engaged, global citizens. He delivered that same important message to current students at Seneca@York on September 17, as part of the one-day Make a Difference event held in support of refugees in Syria.

The cross-disciplinary collaboration between faculty and students featuring musical performances, illustrations, video presentations and a silent auction raised more than $6,000 for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who are on the ground in the conflict ridden region.

During his remarks, the President made a surprise announcement: Seneca will fund full tuition for 10 Syrian refugees. The College will provide tuition for the credential of each individual’s choosing regardless of whether it is full- or part-time studies, a diploma, degree or certificate.

  • David Agnew, Seneca President
    President Agnew
  • “It is a horrific humanitarian crisis,” said President Agnew.  “The world is responding differently and this was an opportunity to step forward in a way that makes sense for us as an institution.”

    Students and staff had the opportunity to hear firsthand the magnitude of the current needs in the region from MSF representative Chris Houston.

    • Chris Houston
      Chris Houston

    Chris, who has been working with the non-profit organization since 2009, talked about how dire the situation in Syria truly has become.

    “Health services are deteriorating, and in this past month you can see an increase in violence,” he said. “What’s been happening is a lot of air strikes, and a lot of double tapping - that’s where a strike is followed by a moments pause and another strike in the same place. It’s killed people who are trying to save the injured and killed those who were injured in the first strike.”

    Since joining the MSF, Chris has seen his fair share of humanitarian crises.

    The Glasgow, Scotland has assisted refugees in Papua New Guinea, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In 2012, he was elected to the MSF Canada Board of Directors and just last year worked as the deputy head for the North Syria mission. His next assignment will take him to Pakistan to manage a mother-and-child healthcare project.

    Chris says it was important for him to attend the Make a Difference event and spread the word about the work his organization is doing. He also wanted to take the opportunity to “plant the seed of humanitarianism in young minds.” 

    If you would like to help “Make a Difference” you still can. Visit MSF to make your donation today.

    Seneca program trains social workers to assist refugees

    By Erika Manassis

    Every semester, Soheila Pashang is reminded of how lucky she is to be living in a country as diverse and as peaceful as Canada. It's a far cry from the life many of her students in the Social Service Worker – Immigrants and Refugees (SSWI) program have had to endure.

    In every class there are students who still feel the effects of various dangerous situations in their country of origin. For many, their families are still back home, dealing with injustices and ongoing conflict.

    • Soheila Pashang
      Soheila Pashang

    Eight years ago, Seneca started the SSWI program to assist new immigrants and refugees adjust to their new life in Canada.

    "Whether they are first generation immigrants, or they are born in Canada, students in the SSWI have one thing in common: a strong desire to help immigrants and refugees navigate the difficult process of integrating into Canadian culture," says Soheila, who is the co-ordinator of the program.

    The first of its kind diploma program provides students with a thorough understanding of pre-migration conditions that cause individuals and communities to leave their countries of origin. It also prepares them to help newcomers with challenges they face throughout the process of migration and during their integration within the host country.

    Soheila estimates that 80 per cent of her students are first generation immigrants. Whichever part of the world they are from, she says they are all "strong and resilient."

    “They are never short of passion," she says. "And that's the beauty of this program."

    Like the Make a Difference event, every year Soheila and her students organize a special forum on immigration and refugee issues. The forum, held in March, attracts up to 400 attendees and features guest speakers, an art sale and student performances. All the money raised from the event is reinvested into the SSWI scholarship fund.

    As the refugee crisis in Syria continues, Soheila and her students hope that more Canadians do their part to help.

    “One day somebody took my hand, and that’s how I came to this field, says Soheila. “We have to take other people’s hand, which is one of Canadian’s most cherished values – helping one another.”

    Student refugee recounts loss of loved ones

    Treisy Rivera

By Alethea Baptista

A big family of aunts, uncles and playful cousins gather in a Mexican home for a traditional family dinner. After their sumptuous feast of delicious, homemade food is consumed they all leave for church together.

These are the fond memories Treisy Rivera recounts of her time back home.

“I always try to have good memories about Mexico and not really think about the bad situation that I went through,” says the future Social Service Worker - Immigrants and Refugees student who will begin her studies at the College in January.

Last week, Treisy couldn’t help but reflect back on her tough childhood growing up. With the Make a Difference event taking place at Seneca@York on Thursday, she knew first-hand how important it is to help refugees around the world that are in dire need.

Up until she was 11 years old, Treisy lived in Guadalajara—Mexico’s second largest city. In the early 2000s, the area was anything but peaceful as the drug cartels were in an all out war with each other. Security warnings were issued to all civilians, but that did little to protect them from the bloody danger. Innocent men, women and children were killed, including Treisy’s father. The loss devastated the family but mourning his senseless death had to wait because the entire family was warned by local officials that the cartels may come for them next. 

Fearing for her children’s lives, Treisy’s mother made the difficult decision to leave their homeland for Canada. For the family, which included Treisy’s younger sister, the move was not an easy choice to make.

Treisy’s mother weighed all her options and made the heartbreaking decision to leave her youngest daughter behind with family, while they sought asylum in Canada. Once she was settled, her plan was to have her younger daughter join them. Thankfully, a few short months later, the trio was reunited again.

The transition, however, wasn’t easy. Unable to speak English and having to live in a shelter left Treisy feeling miserable, lonely and confused. She longed to go back home and at first didn’t understand why they had to leave.

For two years, from 2004 to 2006, the family lived as refugees in Canada. Their struggle, as it would turn out, was far from over. Unfortunately, a new hurdle presented itself in the form of immigration.

Between 2006 and 2009, the family struggled to receive immigration status in the country. After applying and being denied status, Treisy and her family were deported back to Mexico, where tragedy struck once again. This time, Treisy’s sister was sadly killed by the bloody drug cartel violence that continued to claim the lives of more innocent victims.

The loss of Treisy’s sister made the Canadian government re-open the family’s case file. It wasn’t before long that Treisy and her mother were granted permanent residence.

Since arriving back to Canada, Treisy has dedicated her life to assisting others like her. She has shared her story countless times, hoping to raise awareness of the struggles refugees face around the world.

With the knowledge she will gain through the Social Service Worker - Immigrants and Refugees program, she is confident she will be able to assist more families make a new life for themselves in Canada, just like she did.

“Having to go through all of this made me passionate about immigration and I wanted to contribute to make a change. No matter the situation, there is always hope.”