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Nirupama Sharma: Human rights advocate

August 22, 2016

There is a deep-seated myth that immigration only benefits migrants, who gain from the resources that the new host country provides. The fact is, however, that immigration is a mutually beneficial process that can have many positive effects on both the person seeking a new home and the new host country.

Migrants often bring with them skills and experiences that enrich the communities in which they are settling. Successful settlement and integration of newcomers (including refugees) engages both the newcomers and the broader community in a process of mutual learning and inter-relatedness.

The story of Nirupama Sharma, who came to Canada from Nepal in early 2014, perfectly demonstrates the points above.

Nirupama chose (along with her husband) to come to Canada because she was impressed by Canada’s social system and by its reputation as a multi-cultural society. She appreciated that Canada is a state that respects the human rights of its inhabitants and that they all have access to social programs and supports (such as health, education, and welfare when needed). She wanted a better life and future for her two young children (now twelve and five years old), including a good education in a peaceful and secure environment.

Although Nirupama was clearly drawn to Canada because of what it has to offer, she, in turn, had much to offer Canada as a skilled person with unique, much-needed social work skills. Nepal was, and still is, politically fragile (there was a ten-year armed conflict between 1996 and 2006, and there continues to be lots of tension between the state and ethnic groups whose rights are not being respected). Nirupama was fulfilling her passion for building peace and promoting human rights by working with victims of human rights violations through organizations such as the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and the International Center for Transitional Justice. “My entire career is focused on helping people, working with victims,” she says. What is even more impressive is that she was surrounded by a focus on human rights her entire life: Her mother was a human rights activist who took her young child everywhere with her.

Nirupama and her family settled in Guelph in the summer of 2014 after she and her husband were both accepted into graduate studies, she at the University of Waterloo, he at the University of Guelph. Within a few months of arriving in Guelph, she was also hired by the Victim Witness Assistance Program, a program within the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, to be a victim services worker, a job she now loves and was well-suited for given her previous experience and background. The program provides information, assistance, and support to victims and witnesses of crime to increase their understanding of, and participation in, the criminal court process. Services are provided on a priority basis to the most vulnerable victims and witnesses of violent crime, such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, homicide and hate crime.

When asked what advice she would give to those thinking of immigrating to Canada, Nirupama very quickly responded that they should “do good research when they’re still back home about their destination, occupations in demand, how their educational background fits. Their destination should match their needs and cultural or ethnic background. They shouldn’t rely just on friends and family for information.” While still in Nepal, she found it useful to attend a presentation on life in Canada given by representatives of the Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) (funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada). The program provides free pre-departure orientation to all economic class candidates and their families while they are still overseas during the final stages of the immigration process.

Nirupama also advises newcomers to think more broadly and consider moving to smaller cities, not just to big cities. “Moving to Guelph was incredible for me,” she says.

But the appreciation goes both ways, Ms. Sharma. Thanks for enriching Guelph with your commitment to human rights and development.

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership