Polish immigrant Margaret von Lau started helping newcomers to settle in Canada exactly 20 years ago.
She founded NEEDS Inc. or Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services in 10 years after she herself migrated to Canada and went through the hard way of a newcomer. She came to Winnipeg from her native country in search of a better life, but this path was not as simple as the woman had expected.
"As a single mom at the time, on social assistance, I was having a lot of difficulties on the path to finding employment," said von Lau.
Margaret met other migrant women in a similar situation and realized that her situation was far from being unique. She saw how hard it was for them to get support in Winnipeg and was determined to radically change the situation.
“Being amongst women who were facing similar challenges made it easier to figure out what I needed”, von Lau said, "Especially in the job market but also with mental health. We just didn't know where to go for that kind of help."
Margaret set a goal to prepare and launch a help program for beginners, based on the knowledge of people who have already encountered similar problems. Winnipeg Foundation helped her with funding and so NEEDS Inc. appeared in 1999. Initially, it was a program for women only, but now it also supports young people and their families. One of the main goals of her organization is to help with finding a job.
"Employment is one of the most important [things] for newcomers, to give them dignity, give them opportunities to be self-sufficient," Margaret said.
On Thursday, the anniversary gala dinner is held for all past and current customers. Von Lau is eager to see all the people whom she once helped find their way in Winnipeg.
Dalili Lokwa, a refugee from the war in Congo, will be one of those who will speak at the event. He arrived in Canada in 2013 at the age of 19, and just as Margaret did not know where to apply for help. Winnipeg NEEDS Centre helped him to take his place.
"I was put into a regular class with all of the Canadian kids. I was the only black kid in my class, and it scared me," said Lokwa. "When I went to NEEDS, I got to meet youth from all parts of Africa. I actually found people that looked like me. I wasn't the only refugee, you know? So I started being confident. I started loving myself. I started working hard. I started feeling like this was home."
He was very inspired by von Lau story and helped her project as a volunteer. Now he wants to share his story with everyone and urge newcomers to never give up. Lokwa believes that his personal experience will help other refugees and migrants.
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