Loan program makes dreams possible for newcomers aiming to upgrade their skills

Posted on November 5, 2018 in Delivery System – News/GTA
Nov. 3, 2018.   By

The odds seemed stacked against Karla Ogaro ever being a pharmacist again.

The Filipino immigrant, who was a certified pharmacist back home, wanted to retrain and get her licence to practise in Ontario, but she was facing major hurdles: She needed $13,000 to enrol in a program at the University of Toronto to complete the process. But pregnant with her second child, she and her husband were living off meagre wages — she as a part-time pharmacy assistant; he in a factory job.

A newcomer with no credit history in Canada, the Mississauga woman tried to get a personal loan from banks — but without success.

Then someone told her about a Canadian charity that offers low-interest microloans to help newcomers pay for the training or licensing they need to return to their former professions.

Windmill Microlending loaned Ogaro $15,000, and it paid off big. Not only did Ogaro obtain her Ontario licence last May, she is now gainfully employed and earning four times more than she did as a pharmacist assistant.

“We had used up our savings and didn’t know where we could find the money to pay for the U of T program,” recalled Ogaro, 35, who came to Canada in 2012 under the federal skilled worker program. “This loan has changed my life and made my dream possible.”

This month, Windmill, formerly known as Immigrant Access Fund Canada, received a $1 million grant from TD Bank as one of 10 winners of a challenge for fresh ideas to increase income stability and give people the skills for the future economy.

“We’re proud to be helping Windmill increase inclusive prosperity and the economic integration of skilled immigrants and refugees,” said Andrea Barrack, vice president of TD’s global corporation citizenship.

Windmill was founded in 2005 by Swedish immigrant Maria Eriksen, who came across a group of foreign-trained doctors and nurses working as janitors and cleaners at a Calgary hospital where she worked as a clinical psychologist. She and her friends put in the seed money to give struggling skilled immigrants a leg up to return to their professions.

Since its inception, the charity has helped more than 4,000 immigrants and refugees restart their careers in Canada, and many have seen their earnings double or triple as a result. More than half of recipients are in health care, including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and medical technicians. The loan repayment rate is 97.5 per cent.

“Immigrants bring education, skills and experience that too often go to waste,” said Windmill CEO Claudia Hepburn.

Windmill receives operational funding from the federal government and the provinces of Alberta and Ontario, but its loan capital comes from a special line of credit from the Royal Bank, a community bond program, as well as donations and grants. The TD grant will allow the program to expand its services.

Noorul Hassan Ismail, a nurse from India, was juggling jobs in sales and telemarketing when a $7,000 loan from Windmill made it possible for him to attend a year-long nursing program offered by Mohawk College and McMaster University.

“I was studying and working at the same time. Money was a big issue,” said Ismail, 40, who got his licence and was offered a full-time job as a registered practical nurse at a Mississauga hospital in 2016. “The loan is there to help those with a plan so we need not put ourselves in distress.”

Mohsen Hassanzadeh, a civil engineer from Iran, received $7,500 from Windmill to enrol in a career-bridging program at U of T, which ultimately allowed him to land a job as a estimator/project manager at a housing company.

“Everyday I wondered if I had made a mistake to come to Canada,” said the 44-year-old Thornhill man, whose new job doubled the pay he got from his previous job as a on-site inspector for a Toronto construction company. “The loan has helped me move ahead, pursue my dream and find my way.”

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration.

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