Jacob and Helena Guenter and their family immigrated to Winkler, Manitoba from Mexico two years ago to begin a new job and create a new life, but soon found themselves jobless and feeling lost in a new country. The relationship between Jacob and his employer deteriorated after just a couple of months.
The Guenters were unable to receive support from the local settlement services office, since the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) funds only newcomers with Permanent Resident status. Jacob holds Canadian citizenship and Helena is a temporary resident with a Work Permit.
The family turned to Mennonite Central Committee’s Low German Mennonite Services, a Winkler-based program that assists Low German-speaking newcomers who are unable to access support from IRCC. MCC program coordinator Tina Fehr Kehler has been helping Low German-speaking immigrants from Latin-America connect with settlement services and resources in Southern Manitoba for the past 10 years. Moving to another country can be difficult and a lonely process but having local connections makes the transition easier.
There are many people that are immigrating to rural areas… who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
“When they come into my office, I always give them advice,” says Fehr Kehler, recalling how she referred Jacob to an employment service worker who spoke Low German and helped him get a job. “Tina does everything for us,” jokes Jacob.
“You do lots of things yourselves,” she responds. “I help to get them to places to get support, to people that will understand their language and their culture, who can lead them in the right direction.”
The program offers services to help Low German Mennonites access information regarding Manitoba Health Insurance, and advice on driver’s licensing and birth registration. The program also provides information and advice about English and literacy classes, and services provided by volunteers available through Regional Connections, the local settlement agency.
“We generally welcome around 75 new individuals, couples or families every year and about 6-12 returning families,” says Fehr Kehler, adding that on average, the program supports over 110 individuals and families in Winkler per month.
Many residents in the Winkler area do not know that these needs exist, according to Fehr Kehler. “There are many people that are immigrating to rural areas… who would otherwise fall through the cracks.”
This program is a part of MCC and it’s a part of our history. The Low German Mennonites are our people. They are also part of our family.
In the new year, MCC’s Low German Mennonite Services Program will seek to build up a base of volunteer support and assist service providers in meeting the needs of the increasing Low German Mennonite population in the Grunthal area.
The program originally began in the 1980s, when a large migration of Low German-speaking immigrants arrived in the Winkler area from Latin-America. They picked the Southern Manitoba area because the continually growing Low German culture made them feel comfortable and at home.
“This program is a part of MCC and it’s a part of our history,” says Fehr Kehler. “The Low German Mennonites are our people. They are also part of our family. They contribute to our society and to our church and this is a matter of helping empower them as they start life in Manitoba.”