For more than four decades, Vancouver non-profit MOSAIC has helped refugees, immigrants and other newcomers settle into life in the Lower Mainland.
As it celebrates its 45th year during the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Olga Stachova says the organization's focus has remained the same: to offer people the tools they need to succeed and to champion the skills they bring with them.
MOSAIC's services helped Stachova succeed when she first arrived in Canada from Slovakia nearly 20 years ago, she said. She had left a senior management position in her home country and after handing out hundreds of resumés, was struggling to find equivalent work.
"I eventually took a job in retail in a front-line position," she told CBC's The Early Edition.
"I was lucky to find an employer who chose to see beyond the Canadian experience, who chose to see beyond my imperfect English and gave me opportunities to prove myself, and I was able to spend 20 years building my career in the non profit sector."
Newcomers are often leaving their families, social and professional networks behind and trying to navigate a new country in a language they're not always proficient in, she said.
Organizations like MOSAIC can help people fill those gaps, whether it's teaching someone how to enrol their children in school, do their taxes or find a doctor.
MOSAIC has 51 locations in the Vancouver area. It provides 38 programs and supports 83 languages, helping around 35,000 newcomers find housing, employment and other necessities after they arrive.
Newcomers often do find employment, Stachova said, but it's not always in fields that are utilizing the skills they've arrived with.
This is something Stachova hopes changes in the years to come, and she says it shouldn't start and end with recognizing foreign credentials.
"That is important, especially in regulated positions, but most of the jobs are unregulated, and it's not about credential recognition. It's really truly about the lack of Canadian experience," she said.
"Newcomers just don't have that and we can't get it unless we get the opportunity to prove ourselves. So that remains the key barrier."
Newcomers need that first chance to prove themselves, Stachova said.
With 26 million refugees waiting to be resettled globally, Canadians need to continue to see the potential in newcomers, she said.
"Despite the COVID pandemic, despite the economic and health crisis, Canadians still remain very open and supportive of the Canadian government reaching out and Canadians reaching out and offering a helping hand to those who are in immediate need," she said.