Sunday, October 03, 2010


(Posted on The Messenger, Parkdale United Church Newsletter)
By Sergio Granillo

Fall is in the air, the wind blows smooth refreshingly, weathered leaves on the lawn and dawn coming earlier giving way to a full moon. Inside the brick walls of Parkdale United Church, the air is full of laughter, excitement and expectation. Volunteers rush to finish the details of the fancy tables decorated with cute flowers and tea-lights shining, the china and silverware are all set on the tables.

Rev. Shawn Lucas welcomed the attendees and after saying grace, food was served. Exquisite meals prepared by Chef Veronique, starting by a first course, tossed green salad a la vinaigrette. Few minutes later, the entrée made her way, roasted beef, chicken tights, seasoned potatoes and quiche Lorraine. In an ambiance of elegance, long dresses, black jackets and ties, everybody started the gourmet journey full of taste, the soiree was setting the mood for another delight, music and tons of fresh talent.

Shortly before, The Isac Band made its world première, coffee and dessert were served. Tiramisu, Danish bread with caramel topping and fruit cake were the closing of a perfect menu that earned an ovation to the amazing Chef Veronique.

Under the direction of Ajith Isac, a band of really talented and extremely young musicians –in the range of 11 to 17 years old-, The Isac Band opened its debut concert with two original songs: the Isac Band Title Music and Jupiter.

The members of the band wowed the audience, not only with the talent but because of the young age. Ajith Isac in vocals, guitar and keyboard; Brian Humphries, drums; Anoop Isac, vocals and guitar; Irene Harrett, acoustic double bass and electric bass guitar; Chris Romano, percussions; Jinu Isac –11 years old-, piano, keyboard, synthesizers and vocals; and Matthew Lagan, saxophone.

The program included both original melodies as well as some classics. Ajith Isac sang “In A Sentimental Mood” and “Unforgettable”, the very young Jinu featured a tender version of “Let It Be”, while his older brother Anoop, besides his master electric guitar performances, sang “Beautiful Day”.

As special guests, other members of the church had the chance to participate. Charles Ellsworth took on Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, Noreen Simon performed “Jesus Walk With Me” and Sergio Granillo made an interesting interpretation (a reggae version) of “How Great Thou Art” in French (although people believed it was Spanish), called “Dieu Tout Puissant”.

Adding more excitement and fun to this incredible Gala, Rev. Lucas was in charge of the auction, getting to sell everything available, from old-style radio, potty mums, carving knives sets to highly bid “girlie bags”.

The First Parkdale United Annual September’s Outreach Gala was a big success thanks to the hard work of the volunteers: Vibert Joshua, Lionel Smith, Karen Fox, Glenda Moore, Pat Comar, Vickie Johnson, Shane Gallant, Reg Topping and Roger Beaven. All the proceeds of the event will go to support the outreach programs of the church: Refugee Support Program, The Homework Club and to send kids to camp.

The night of Saturday September 25th will be remembered as the very first one of a new tradition in Parkdale United Church. It was a night full of joy, of giving, sharing and enjoying great food, great music and good fellowship. The spirit of good harvest was in the air and resounded through the night!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


(Posted in the Parkdale United Church newsletter "The Messenger")
“There are not good refugees or bad refugees, just people in need.”
By Sergio Granillo

It was the night of April 29, in the premises of the Lawrence Park Community Church of Toronto. In a sober environment, refined and tasteful meals were served: Pasta cooked on the spot, beef kabob dipped in blue cheese, roast beef, sushi, breaded shrimp, surimi salad and wine; a chocolate fountain to dip fruit and marshmallows, pastries and cakes for dessert. There was some entertainment too, live music, a radio and TV personality hosted the night and did some interviews with the organizers; a silent auction took place at the end.

All of that was the Gala, the most important event in the year to raise funds by the Anglican United Refugee Alliance (AURA), an ecumenical organization dedicated to facilitate the private sponsorship of refugees. For over 25 years, AURA has sponsored refugees from more than 25 countries.

Mary Ito, television and radio personality -currently hosts Fresh Air, CBC Radio One’s regional weekend program in Ontario- hosted the event.

In the first place, the attendees watched a video about Norman Valdez, produced by Jason Hunter. Norman is a refugee from Peru, arrived in Canada 13 years ago. He came with his parents, brother and sister. His father was a journalist in Peru; he was imprisoned for three years because of his writings. AURA helped the family to settle down in Canada.

Presently, Norman has his own computer business and he is a professor at York University. In the video, he told his story and explained how English was one of the biggest barriers when his family arrived in Canada. “It makes it harder to get a job,” he said. In the end, the family found his place in the new country; Norman’s father runs a Spanish language newspaper in Toronto and his mother recently won a community service award.

Attendees to the Gala enjoyed an amusing musical performance by Ajit and Anoop Isac, father and son from Parkdale United Church; both born in India and building their own success story in Canada.

During one of the interviews, Jim Acheson, Chair of Don Valley Refugee Resettlers, explained how they have been sponsoring refugee individuals and families since the Vietnamese boat crisis in the late seventies. Jim has been a long time board member with AURA and attends Northminster United Church.

How does AURA operate? Jim explained: They select an individual or a family who applied for refugee to the Canadian government, before landing in Canada. They take care of the paperwork, pick them up at the airport and, step by step, help them to settle down in the community. They help to get English courses for adults and to find a spot in public schools for their children. Orientation to get official documents, such as SIN, OHIP and Child Tax Benefit is provided as well. “It is just like an adoption,” he said.

The support provided by AURA goes beyond the complex paperwork and covering their economic needs, it is introducing people form remote places to a modern life style. Some of the refugees had never seen a TV or an electric stove; others have no idea of what a bank is.

How expensive this is? An average size family –father, mother and 2 children- costs around 25,000 dollars, a single individual is cheaper, but they have received families with 9 members; then the expenses jump up to 40,000 dollars. That is on a yearly basis.

AURA gets its financial support through fundraising events. People that are touched by stories like Norman’s cooperate and attend events as this Gala –the most important event in the year-. The idea is to support refugees from places in struggle or severe poverty problems; countries like Vietnam, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq and Colombia.

Sometimes the Canadian government contacts AURA to take care of a refugee. There is an extensive list of people all over the world who have been waiting for several years to come to Canada.

During the event, the audience learned how Ian McBride, Executive Director of AURA, got involved in such a noble quest. He was born in the rural Canada, and from a young age he saw how his father –a farmer- extended a helping hand to the Latvian families that came to settle down in the community.

As a youngster, Ian decided to take a hitch-hike travel around the world. He saw at first hand the painful poverty of India and other countries. The experience made him to realize how fortunate Canadians are. ‘We must give back’, he thought. Helping out refugees has been the way for him to do it.

A leading voice is the key to connect those who are willing to help with the many others who require care and assistance, but some people don’t have the time or don’t know how. The staff and volunteers of AURA are making it happen. There is no standard number of refugees assisted per year, Ian explains. In a single year they have received 75 persons form 7 or 8 families.

AURA does not discriminate because of religious beliefs. “We don’t look for Christian refugees; we look for people in need.” There is much to learn about helping refugees, by knowing their stories of struggle and believing in a better future... “Human condition is enormously resilient; no matter what, people go forward with their lives. Stories of refugees are stories of determination.”

In a personal conversation with Ian MacBride, after the event, he explained how the announced changes to the Canadian Refugee System would affect their work. “Most of the new regulations will be for inland claims. The difficulty with this process is that some of the ideas are very good, but some of the details are foggy and not well thought through, and I think it will be difficult to enact all the changes that they want to make.”

In terms of the work that AURA does with overseas people is offering more spaces and more support, because they want to see the overseas process enhanced as opposed to inland processing. In regards of the refugee claims coming from Middle East, Ian said that the policies for that region seem to focus on bringing women, handicaps and some families without a male head.

What is the typical kind of refugee that AURA takes? Individuals, nuclear families, single parent families; anything from one person to families of 12. “We don’t have a typical. We take people who are challenged by who they are,” he said.

Speaking about the guidelines about refugees in general, Ian said: “I don’t want to come to a position where there are good refugees and bad refugees; there are refugees or there are not, is not about good and bad.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Short courses in finance and banking
(Published in The Canadian Newcomer)
By Sergio Granillo

One of the main concerns when you come to Canada is to get your credentials recognized, to make valid your University degree and your professional experience. It is hard to accept that, at least for a while, you have to start a new career.

And the fact of thinking of developing new skills in a different professional area makes a big difference between getting a ‘survival job’ –and staying there for a long time- and making that job a new career path.

This is about my personal experience. I have a degree in Communications, more than 15 years working in marketing, public relations and journalism. Shortly after my arrival, I approached to some orientation centres and workshops to learn how to make a resume according to the Canadian workplace.

Networking, a word new to me, came across in this workshop; a very useful tactic to get a job and to move up in the workplace. Luckily, I started my networking among the other newcomers in the group and attended to different orientation conferences.

It was November 2005, in a motivational conference in Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) that I met Stella Mejia, she worked for another organization created to advise immigrants, COSTI.
Originally known as Centro Organizzativo Scuole Tecniche Italiane (COSTI), is now COSTI Immigrant Services a multicultural agency that helps immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area.
I explained Stella that I had found a ‘survival job’ in a bank as a teller and that it made me feel frustrated. She gave me a peace of advice: ‘If you can access training programs in that job, take them, doesn’t matter that it is not related to your background. It’s like a free university!’
It is not easy to accept. But you learn how important that mindset can be. So, I was trained first as a teller, and then I kept learning all I could, as I saw the time passing by and didn’t find a job in my career.
Anyhow, in the same meeting I got connected to a group of newcomers, all of them with a background in Marketing and Communications, who had created a group called CAMP, where people new to Canada met to join efforts trying to break in that industry.
This way, I tackled two areas in my life, pay the bills working as a teller, but preserved my long term goal, getting a job in Communications.
If you can not find that ‘dream job’, you need to find the way of not getting stock in a sort of comfort zone and assess the possibility of growing in a new career path.
And here comes another piece of advice I got:
“Forget about your degree, it is no going to open the doors here; in this company you need to have a licence to sell mutual funds, that course will open doors”.
Luis Flores, a Mexican investment advisor in the bank, told me so. He studied in the same private university that I attended to.
The fist thing I thought was, I am not giving up my search or rip off my diploma. It is hard to take, but what he told me was true.
Even my idea of moving up in the financial industry was not becoming an account manager, position where this licence is required. Later I realized that you need that accreditation to get better jobs in the bank.
The Canadian Securities Institute (CSI) offers these courses. The basic ones are the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) and the Investment Funds in Canada (IFC). The cost is $ 995.00 and $ 350.00, respectively. They are self-study courses, so you can organize your study time. Within a year, you cab book the date to present the exam. If you succeed, then you get your licence, which is valid for a couple of years.
I have lost the opportunity to get better jobs because I didn’t have any of these courses. Finally, decided to enrol in one of them and I realized that they are providing me with a better understanding of the industry where I am on. It can give me tools to build up a new career. And I have been able to transfer some of my previous experience and skills to enhance my performance and thrive for better opportunities.