The quality of job prospects took a sizable downturn when Melvin Sim-Turay left Sierra Leonne in 2007 to start a new life in Canada.
Sim-Turay, 46, enjoyed good employment in his home country, working first as an audit clerk from 1987 to 1991 and then as a tax officer from 1993 to 2004.
He has not been so fortunate on the job front since coming to P.E.I. with his son, Melvin Jr., to reunite with his wife and the boy’s mother, Kadiatu Kamara.
The family was violently torn apart in 1999 as Sierra Leone reeled under escalating conflict.
Sim-Turay came to Canada determined to take good care of his family. His work credentials, while valuable in Sierra Leone, have not paved the way to any quick prosperity in Charlottetown. He has to date needed to settle for low-paying, physically punishing work.
From 2007 to 2009, he spent 40 hours a week sanding wood at the former Cabinet Master in Charlottetown as well as doing general cleaning. He spent the next two years working as a receiver at Kent Building Supply.
Both jobs paid only $10 per hour, well below the income of a tax officer.
Sim-Turay has been working hard not only to scrape by, but also to vastly improve the level of his work options.
He spent two years earning his technician diploma in accounting at Holland College. He is currently in business studies at the University of Prince Edward Island.
His goal is to become an accountant.
Raising a family (his wife is only working part-time at a nursing home) while pursuing an education that will open the door for a good career in the province has proven to be a financial struggle.
The family spends each and every dollar with great care. They also have at times relied on the kindness of others for items ranging from furniture to clothes.
Now Sim-Turay has tapped into some helpful financial assistance.
He has been approved for a $15,000 loan from the Canada Microcredit Educators Group (CMEG), a non-profit lending service that provides microcredit or collateral-free loans to internationally trained workers who currently reside in P.E.I.
“It’s a bit of good help to my family,’’ said Sim-Turay, who adds he can now worry less about day-to-day expenses and pay more attention to pursuing a career in Canada.
CMEG president Bill Campbell, who received the prestigious Paragon Award for his efforts to bring the Global Microcredit Summit to Halifax, is the leading force behind the microcredit initiative here in Prince Edward Island.
“CMEG would love to help newcomers and all Islanders reach their full potential as human beings by finding meaningful work and/or creating sustainable businesses on P.E.I.,’’ said Campbell.
He says CMEG started accepting applications for loans in September. Almost 10 applications have been received so far despite the fact that the microcredit program had received virtually no publicity. Five applicants were approved, including people trained as a medical doctor, neurosurgeon, agronomist and an accountant and coming from places afar like Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.
Pat O’Neill, a consultant to CMEG, says the program addresses the real need of providing financial assistance to help people who come here from another country to obtain the Canadian accreditation or training required to work in the occupation for which they have trained or experienced before immigrating to Canada.
“We see people that are working (on P.E.I.) at very low skill occupations when their skill levels are very high, such as doctors,’’ said O’Neill. “It must be a big shock for people to arrive and not be able to work in their (chosen) profession.’’
Campbell says there is a fair bit of money to go around for those that fit the bill.
CMEG has at minimum $400,000 to loan but likely more if repayment of loans go well and considerably more if the pilot is successful and the federal government provides more funding.
Campbell says a loan can’t exceed $15,000 per applicant. He anticipates the average loan to be $10,000.
The loan is collateral-free and leans heavily on a character-based assessment. The successful applicant receives a loan at a comparably low rate of prime, plus one per cent, that comes out today to roughly four per cent.
Metro Credit Union administers the CMEG loan portfolio. The interest rate of one per cent over the prime rate will be fixed for the life of the loan.
Repayment is over a three-year period after completing the required education or training. The first year could be interest payments only if necessary. Loaned funds may be used to cover the costs of training and/or living costs while training towards a particular certification or designation.
An open house is being held Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Farm Centre in Charlottetown to highlight CMEG, which is partnering with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada, Charlottetown Metro Credit Union, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Innovation and Advanced Learning: Skills PEI.
The potential is for hundreds to tap into the lending service. Eligibility extends to the following:
— An immigrant living in P.E.I.
— A Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or a protected person/refugee. Persons nominated under the Provincial Nominee Program.
— Persons having previously worked and or been trained in a profession, trade or skill in another country and plan to work in that occupation or related occupation in Canada.
— Persons being accepted into the program of study or certification needed to access employment in his or her profession or occupation.