Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/4/2012 (1953 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a new century, a new millennium, in April 2000 when radiation therapists at Panorama Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, discussed an enticing new opportunity in a place called Winnipeg.
Most of the therapists interested in the job were single and just starting their careers, but one woman had been in the workforce for a while and had a husband and two small children.
With bombings and increased violence in Cape Town and the pangs of apartheid still very real even after six years, that woman decided to relocate her entire family to Winnipeg.
She is my mother, Maylene Ponticelli, who accepted a two-year contract with CancerCare Manitoba when it was recruiting therapists from South Africa.
"There were a lot of girls interested in going; a lot of us applied," she recalled. "The company offered us a relocation fee, which was the same amount whether you were single or had a family."
In 2000, the relocation fee was $5,000. The rest came out of personal savings because of the promise of better opportunity in Manitoba. My mother wasn't told about the fledgling provincial nominee program until we arrived.
"I wasn't made aware of it," she said. "I applied for the program after I found out about it from a South African woman I met at the salon."
My mother filled out the application online on our family's first computer.
In 2000, the provincial nominee program was an immigrant's tool used as a "stepping stone" before applying federally as a landed immigrant. Applications for would-be new adult Canadians cost $975 each; children were free.
"It eased the way and at the time, there were no medical fees through the province," said Ponticelli, referring to the medical examinations required by the federal government. My mother knew she had a good chance of being accepted through the program because of her much-needed skills.
Going through the program was an affirmation the province wanted to keep us here.
"It's a security thing; from there, it feels better moving forward to becoming a resident," Ponticelli said.
We were not alone; Manitoba was seeing an increase in foreign health-care workers because of the program. While my mother had secured work before applying to the program, the realities of being first-generation immigrants were still there. We didn't know the city, we didn't understand the political climate and we weren't aware of supports.
There is hardly a specific entity at fault; it could be because the program was new, or because my family wasn't looking in the right direction. We could speak English and figure things out as we went, which sometimes made it more difficult for people to understand the adjustment was a challenge.
On our second day in Winnipeg, we took a bus ride and fumbled through tasks like asking for a transfer and figuring out schedules and routes. Buying a vehicle and driving on the right side are things we now take for granted. My parents could do all these things alone, sure, but having help moved things quickly.
We had a guide in the community, who was the director of CancerCare at the time. On her own time, she enrolled my brother and I in the same school as her children and helped set up a place for my family in the same neighbourhood. Because my parents weren't tied up doing this, my mother could focus on her job right away and my father found his within two weeks of arriving.
Had we been without our guide, our story in Winnipeg would be much different.
Feeling a part of a community is what has kept us in the province. My mother now lives in Brandon, working at the city's new CancerCare facility.
It just made sense; Manitoba is home.