Meet Mary Garlicki: Veteran COA/Planning for Canada Facilitator

16 Jun Meet Mary Garlicki: Veteran COA/Planning for Canada Facilitator

Mary Garlicki, a veteran COA immigrant facilitator in Manila (Philippines), has been leading pre-arrival orientation sessions for newcomers for over 13 years. COA/Planning for Canada Coordinator in the Philippines, Ms. Kathy Vergara, caught up with Mary to discuss her family’s experience as displaced persons after World War II, and the ways she helps newcomers before they make their journeys to Canada.

How did you become a facilitator with the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Program? How long have you been a facilitator with COA?

I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of Polish parents who went there as Displaced Persons, DP, shortly after the end of World War II.  However, my close relatives (grandmother, aunt and uncle) were sent as DP to Canada. It took a few years, but we were able to unify the family by immigrating to Canada where I eventually grew up, studied and spent the first 13 years of my career.

Immigration to Canada was not easy as we did not speak English. The first few years in Canada were difficult; we worked hard to learn the language, acquire new skills and find suitable employment.  We moved from Toronto to Brantford, then to Hamilton, and finally, to Windsor, all in Ontario. But we succeeded and grew to love our new country.

kathy 2

Kathy Vergara

COA / Planning for Canada Philippines Coordinator

For career advancement and a sense of adventure, I later moved to Malaysia, then to Singapore, Hong Kong, and finally to the Philippines. After moving to the Philippines in 2001, and retiring in 2002, I took a course to study Philippines’ history and culture. The question for me was: “what to do when the course is finished?” I felt that I could contribute my skills to an organization and, at the same time, keep busy and my mind stimulated. Over a meal, I expressed my feelings of boredom to a Canadian friend who was already working part-time for the very same reasons.

Mary Garlicki, COA Facilitator, leads a session in COA's training room in Manila, Philippines.
Mary Garlicki, COA Facilitator, leads a session in COA's training room in Manila, Philippines.

My friend was working as a facilitator at IOM; providing training to immigrants going to Canada. The awareness of the value of the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) program was growing, resulting in an increase in the number of immigrants attending. In early 2004, on the recommendation of my friend, I contacted the COA Global Program Manager, had an interview and joined the COA team.

How do you engage the participants during the sessions? How is your training style different from other facilitators?

At the beginning of each training session, I try to find out as much as I can about each participant: Where are they from? What is their intended place of settlement in Canada? What is their occupation? Have they travelled to Canada before? Have they worked overseas or ever travelled to another country? Etc. For any destination that is ‘small’ or ‘unusual’, I have the administration team print information about their intended place of residence and give them a copy. An added personal benefit is that I am also expanding my knowledge of the Canadian geography. I have trained immigrants headed to each of the 10 provinces and 2 of the 3 territories. I am still hoping to train an immigrant going to Nunavut. Someday, perhaps! We have had participants going to places as small as Whitelaw, AB (population 134); as far north as Norman Wells, NT (684 km. north of Yellowknife, NT); military bases such as Shilo, MB; Gibsons, BC, only accessible by water ferry, and many more.

Throughout the session, I use the participant’s background information, obtained at the start of the session, and weave it into the presentation material. I walk around the room to engage them and make the presentation personal. I try to get involved with every individual, including children. I’m animated. I use humour. I joke with them and sometimes tease them. I liberally use all the resources in the training room (either on our learning walls or with documents that are passed around the room throughout the session), use my own immigrant experiences, and my understanding of the local Philippines’ culture, history and geography to relate to everyone.

What does it entail to be a facilitator and provide pre-arrival orientation to newcomers?

Everyone has their own delivery style. However, continuous learning is important to keep abreast of the ever-changing environment. Not only does one have to learn the material and understand the presentation topics that are given, but one also needs to expand on their own knowledge through further reading and research.

One should not just read the presentation slides for this could be boring to the participants but one should embellish the material with their own experiences and research without losing momentum and keeping on topic.  It takes stamina to deliver such a broad spectrum of topics during the 1-day session.

I make sure that, by the end of the day, each question asked and any comment made is addressed, answered and/or explained.

Who are the participants that you serve in COA Philippines? Are you still in touch with your previous participants?

We train Economic migrants (federal skilled workers, provincial nominees, investors, and Québec-selected skilled workers), Family Class migrants sponsored by a close family member in Canada, and in the past, caregivers. Participants should be over 12 years old to attend, however, parents occasionally bring young children because they do not have a babysitter at home. We need to engage these children also and keep them busy with colouring books, training room resources with pictures, etc.

I have received many personal notes from previous attendees. Some have found me through the internet and on social media platforms. Some have sent emails, connected through Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, etc. It pleases me to hear from them and to know that I was able to help them. This stimulates me to continue.

Mary (center) poses with graduates from one of her COA sessions in Manila, Philippines.
Mary (center) poses with graduates from one of her COA sessions in Manila, Philippines.

What do you find the most challenging in being a COA facilitator? What do you find the most rewarding?

Engaging people who tend to be reticent and shy is very hard. Getting them to talk and open up, to relax, to participate and enjoy the session.

Participants come to the sessions with big dreams. They believe that they are going to land and continue in their career after a short period of time, and earn a lot of money. They believe the immigration agents and what their families/friends tell them. I try to meet their expectations with a healthy dose of reality; correct the misinformation they have received, burst their bubble without discouraging them. Immigration could be rewarding in the long term but the process at the beginning is not easy. They need to stay focused and positive.

Overall, I love the hugs and the smiles I get at the end of a session. The positive feedback is encouraging. In the end, I hope that I have made a difference in their immigration experiences.