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Six new Canadians; six reasons to celebrate 'You don't have any problems with people who think differently than you. You are free'

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Guillermo Vodniza

22Vodniza was born in Puerto Guzman, Colombia -- a nation with a polarized political climate. Political allegiance was socially important, and towns were generally all of one political mindset, Vodniza said.

"I used to be a teacher in my country. They tried to impose on us the revolutionary things to teach in our schools, political things. At this time everyone in my town belonged to one parliamentary group that was right and nobody could be in the middle. I didn't feel safe speaking of my politics or teaching that. I resisted."

After he refused to teach the curriculum, Vodniza said he began receiving death threats. He was raising two children and was afraid they were at risk, too.

Vodniza went to the teachers union and asked for help to move to another country. They contacted embassies in Canada, Switzerland and Puerto Rico. Canada responded.

"One month after I applied, the Canadian Embassy called me for an interview. Two months later, I was taken to Winnipeg. I didn't choose. I didn't know the place," said Guillermo. "People here kept saying the weather was nice, the heat is beautiful. I didn't understand because my country is very hot with no winter. I didn't understand that the winter was so long here," Vodniza recalls, laughing.

Since his teaching certificate was not accepted here, Vodniza started taking credits toward his bachelor's of education at the University of Winnipeg. He will graduate in three years.

In November 2011, Vodniza received his official Canadian citizenship. He celebrates his first Canada Day as an official Canadian citizen this year.

"This is why I am so happy to become an official citizen. Here in Canada you have more opportunities. The life is quiet. You don't have any problems with people who think differently than you. You are free."

-- By Katherine Dow

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 J4

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