A Journey of Miracles
When Celina Zuniga reflects back on her journey to Canada, all she sees are miracles that happened along the way. Celina credits the hand of God in in bringing her and her family from Mexico to Canada. She also credits God in bringing her to Communitas Supportive Care Society where she has been an employee for over 20 years.
Celina grew up in Mexico City. She and her husband, Ruben, a pastor, lived in a home owned by the church. Their three boys also grew up in this urban setting, with little space and the streets as their playground. Part of their church’s ministry was to run an emergency shelter for refugees coming from Central America, providing shelter, food and clothing for people. Ruben also worked with the Canadian Embassy, to help people navigate the complex systems and paperwork, helping people seeking to emigrate and start anew in Canada. It was through this work that Celina and Ruben experienced their first miracle.
“We had been praying for something different for our family,” Celina says. “We wanted a place to call our own and a better environment for our children. We prayed and our friends prayed. Then one day, the Consular asked my husband if he had ever considered going to Canada.”
They had not, assuming that they did not qualify. The Consular handed him 5 application forms, one for each member of their family and said “do it.” The fact that they had come to know Ruben as a trustworthy, honest, hard-working person stood him in good stead with the officials at the Consulate.
“All we had to do was pay for our medical exams and our flights,” Celina says, adding that this alone was a significant expense.
They experienced their second miracle when their paperwork was completed in a month and came back to them with “Permanent Resident” status applied.
“This meant that we would be able to study, open a business or find work right away. All we could say was ‘wow’!” she says.
Friends in Canada got together and raised enough money to help cover their flights and so they came. Government funding paid for furnished lodging, food, and clothing as well as English classes. They settled in Abbotsford, BC where they continued to experience the goodness of God through the church community.
“All the things that we used to do for people back in Mexico City at the emergency shelter we were now receiving here in Canada,” Celina says. “It was amazing.”
My clients have taught me that we have the same voice as anyone else and we deserve to be heard. – Celina
The whole family worked hard. She cleaned houses, the children delivered newspapers or worked at an egg farm and Ruben worked as an electrician. Most importantly, they went to school.
“I love learning. I went to English classes and then began studies for the Early Childhood Education certificate at UFV,” she says.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to work with children but she did want to work with people. During her first semester, she got a call from Communitas asking if she’d be interested in working with people who have disabilities.
“I had to decide – school or work? It was a hard choice because I love school and I was getting good marks. In the end, my family came first, so I decided to work,” she says.
She began as a Residential Support Worker, caring for people with developmental disabilities who also had high medical needs. She fell in love with her work.
“I loved the clients so much. They became like my family,” she says.
She served in this capacity for many years but began to wonder how long she would be able to do the physical aspects of the job. When the opportunity arose to work with Communitas’ Community Living Program, she made the switch. Now, she supports people with developmental disabilities who are living in the community.
As she considers the challenges of coming to a new country, learning a new language and a new culture, she realizes that being an immigrant helps her understand the people she serves.
“I understand the barriers and the discrimination that they feel,” she says.
And the learning has been reciprocal.
“My clients have taught me that we have the same voice as anyone else and we deserve to be heard,” she says.
She is so grateful for the opportunities that she has had here in Canada. Coming here has fulfilled a goal for herself and her family.
“When I was in Mexico, I was always determined to make life better for me and my family,” she says. “When I came here, I was still determined. And life has been good here. I love my work and I love the people I serve!”