Project opens doors for educated immigrant women

When dentist Margarita Fuentes came to Canada in 2005, she expected her career to continue.

When dentist Margarita Fuentes came to Canada in 2005, she expected her career to continue.

She was a dentist in Colombia for nine years. But retraining in Canada would cost $146,000.

“Going through the process to become a dentist again is extremely difficult, almost impossible. I cannot even be a dental assistant,” Fuentes said.

But she hopes the three-year Women’s Economic Security Project officially launched at Red Deer College on Friday by the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association will pave the way for change.

The association will be working with community partners to develop and implement a plan to identify employment gaps and barriers and opportunities for immigrant women in Red Deer, Ponoka, Olds and Lacombe.

“At least create some foundation for the women to come, and they can have a better future and success in what they studied,” said Fuentes who works as the co-ordinator of the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters program with CAIWA.

CAIWA received a $300,000 grant from Status of Women Canada for the Women’s Economic Security Project.

It’s part of $14 million in funding for 55 projects for women living in rural and remote communities and small urban centres across the country.

Staff and students with Red Deer College have joined the project.

In the last 10 years, Canada has accepted an average of 250,000 permanent residents. Many have problems getting their credentials and skills recognized.

Tabitha Phiri, women’s economic security and safe homes program co-ordinator with CAIWA, said in 2006, the most recent available statistics, Red Deer had close to 2,000 immigrants.

“Some (women) are doctors. Some are professors. Some have master’s degrees. Some are managers. But then when they come to Canada, they start all over again,” Phiri said.

They face similar barriers because of language or accents, a lack of Canadian work experience, and just being different, she said.

Focus groups with immigrants have started and focus groups with employers, local political leaders and service providers will also be conducted during the first year of the project.

“During the next three years we are going to involve the community a lot,” Phiri said.

A plan will be developed in the second year and implemented and assessed in the third year.

Red Deer MP Earl Dreeshen, who brought greetings on behalf of Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose, said the federal government is committed to sustaining Canada’s position as one of the world’s top performing economies and women are extremely important to the country’s success.

“In every region of Canada, particularly in rural remote and northern communities, women play an important role in their families and their communities and are key to our country’s prosperity,” Dreeshen said.

“Canada is a vast country where nearly one in five women live outside of large urban centres.”

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