The shoes’ story

On a Monday morning in the middle of November, a man donated twelve formal, high quality shoes to the clients of FCJ Refugee Centre. For Fabian, who came to Canada as a refugee fourteen years ago, nice shoes represent an important part of creating a new life here. They can give you confidence and dignity when you are going in for an interview or event, and already going through a difficult time.

Fabian is from Colombia and had a beautiful life before he was forced to leave. He married his high school sweetheart and they had a young daughter and a son on the way. He had a good job at the airport and worked hard so that him and his family could have a good life. In Colombia though, airports, airplanes, and drugs are very connected. When he was asked to do something illegal, he refused and reported it. Throughout this process, his security and the security of his family became increasingly at risk. Fabian left Colombia fearing for his life, to claim refugee status and eventually to bring his family with him. He went through the United States and arrived at the Canadian border in Niagara Falls.

Upon arriving at the Port Authority and claiming refugee status, Fabian recounted his life story to the immigration officer. He was given two options — either stay at the Niagara Falls Detention Centre while they verify his story, or go back to the United States where he would inevitably be deported back to Colombia.

He was brought to the detention centre and luckily only had to spend a short time there while they verified his story, as the detention centre is not a place anyone would want to go back to. During this whole process, his luggage with the few items he had was lost, and he literally only had the orange jumpsuit on his back. Fabian recounts with fondness the generosity of one immigration officer when he left the detention centre. The officer asked him if he was ok, and bought him a McDonald’s breakfast as Fabian hadn’t eaten for days due to stress. The officer brought him some clothes to change into, and asked him where he was heading. Fabian said Toronto, and the officer drove him to the bus stop and gave him $40 for the ticket. The bus ticket was $33, leaving $7 in Fabian’s pocket as he arrived in Toronto, not speaking a word of English and not knowing anybody, on the cold night of December 4th.

When Fabian arrived in Toronto, he didn’t know where to go. He eventually found a police officer who spoke Spanish who brought him to Matthew House. At Matthew House he was given a temporary room, clean clothing, and a home cooked meal. Right away he had an appointment with a social service case manager, who set him up at an ESL school so that he would begin to learn English. Fabian had a hard time going to the classes steadily though because all he was thinking about was his wife and kids back in Colombia, and how he wasn’t sending them any money. He found a part-time job as a cleaner at a building downtown, working for $9.35/hour. In the meantime, Fabian was attending centres like FCJ about tips for advancing and building on his career. He remembers meeting Francisco Rico fourteen years ago, who gave him advice on where to go to build his resume and get better opportunities of employment. While he was cleaning part-time, he was attending any workshop he could find for help to get a professional job and improve his resume. One of the workshop leaders told him to always keep his professional resume behind his labour one, because you never know who’s looking at it. Fabian is a mechanical engineer, but his credentials were not valid in Canada.

From a connection at the cleaning job, Fabian got another part-time job at a Slaughterhouse. While working both jobs, he continued to work on validating his credentials with his case manager through WES, World Educational System. He was working amidst animal’s blood and guts from 8–4, and then heading over to the cleaning service rom 5–9, hoping to find a way out. The slaughterhouse eventually transferred him to a small town called Smithville. He had to leave his cleaning job and took up a part time delivery job at Pizza Pizza in Smithville. Even though he was working so many hours, he was unable to send much money back to Colombia, and was always renting a room or sharing a room, unable to save anything.

Finally Fabian got his first break 3 or 4 years later when he was called by a company that processed pigs in Toronto for the position of Maintenance Foreman. His professional experience back in Colombia combined with his experience in the slaughterhouse made him perfect for the job. As Fabian was still working on validating his credentials, Maintenance Foreman was the highest position he could apply for at the moment. When Fabian was preparing for the interview, he realized he needed a professional suit and pair of shoes, but he couldn’t afford them. Because of the low wage he was making, and his financial responsibilities, buying a pair of nice shoes for the interview would mean he wouldn’t have money for food for two weeks.

With a lot of hard work, he continued to move from job to job, all while working away at validating his credentials, until he landed his dream job at Nestlea Canada working as a Maintenance Manager. He stayed there for around 6 years and then decided to move on to something different, and is now working in the Engineering and Maintenance division at Suncor Energy.

Fabian talks about how it’s easy to lose hope if you’re in a difficult circumstance, especially if you’re a refugee. He had to leave his family behind, and arrived in Canada with no friends or family, and no money. It was difficult for a long time, but he eventually surpassed his goals. Fabian’s message is that it is possible to achieve your goals if you stay focused and keep at it, and don’t lose hope. During the whole process, Fabian and his wife in Colombia got divorced, and he was single while working his way up in Canada. Five years ago he got married again, he has a baby who is two years old and is expecting another. He’s re-writing his life because of the portion that he missed. He was also able to bring over his daughter and son from Colombia, who are both currently studying in Toronto; his daughter is at Ryerson and his son is at Etobicoke School of the Arts.

He remembers how hard it was when he first arrived in Canada and for the several years following, and how he struggled to feel dignified and professional building his career when he couldn’t afford shoes or a suit. Through the donation of these shoes, he knows somebody who was in his position will put them to good use.