By Suniti Arora
“This is our only hope” say many refugees as Faithful Companions of Jesus refugee Centre has been a haven for many refugees in Canada. They now have a place to call home thanks to Loly Rico, the executive director of FCJ Refugee Centre.
Loly Rico, a prominent leader and advocate for refugee rights knows firsthand the challenges faced by those who flee their homes in search of safety. The organization is very much influenced by Rico’s past. Her own experience as a refugee has inspired her to help others who face similar difficulties.
Along with her husband, Francisco-Rico Martinez, Rico opened a refugee Centre in Canada in 1991, with the invaluable support of the sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus.
“When me and my husband arrived in Canada, we were welcomed, they opened their doors, we need to continue doing that” said Rico when asked about her motivation to open the Centre. She calls herself and her family “Golden Refugees.”
Rico and her family were forced out of their country El Salvador due to his husband’s work as a human rights defender in the El Salvadorian Civil War. The couple arrived in Canada while she was pregnant and had two children. As someone who understands the challenges and traumas that come with seeking asylum in a new country, they made it their mission to provide refugees with the support they need to rebuild their lives. They decided to turn a house into the now known FCJ Refugee Centre.
In all her struggles, Rico isn’t alone. Carolina Teves, the Communications and Network Coordinator at the Centre, is a valuable team member who supports her. She started as a client at the Centre after she arrived in Canada as a refugee. She belongs to the same country as Rico and says they have an “El Salvador connection.”
“When I arrived in Canada, I was looking for help with my family, then we met Loly and Francisco, it was really nice and welcoming from them.”
She is an invaluable asset to the Centre. Her role is to manage the center's website as well as its communications. She is a journalism graduate from El Salvador, so she plays a key role in making podcasts in different languages for clients who don’t know English. Throughout the pandemic, she has produced 37 podcasts on different issues. Listen to her podcast Borderless Voices here.
From a couple of employees to over 10 full-time and part-time employees, the center has grown tremendously.
There are also a number of organizations that support the center, including IKEA, the Canadian Women's Foundation, York University, and more, but that is not enough to meet the center's needs.
“It is a big struggle because the people that we service, no one wants to fund. Like for an example, the refugee claims, they don't
make it in an eligibility criteria to be funded by Immigration Canada”, says Rico describing the struggles of raising money.
To cover the extra expenses, they organize various campaigns and fundraising events.
The Centre is also open to volunteers and placement students and appreciates their help. To volunteer, fill the form available on their website.
FCJ’s support programs
Rico and her team provide a wide range of services to refugees including legal and immigration assistance, settlement support, counseling and advocacy, and education and training programs.
The centre also runs a shelter for women and their children who are fleeing violence and abuse. While they wait for a permanent house to be found, they are kept in their transitional houses. For those who cannot find permanent housing for more than a month, the center provides AirBNB rentals.
The Centre has a team of experienced lawyers and immigration consultants who provide free legal service and representation to refugees who are navigating the complex Canadian immigration system.
Rico's awards and achievements
She says her most significant achievement is the centre's success in helping the refugees.
The City of Toronto honoured her in 2004 with the Constance E. Hamilton Award for her outstanding commitment and contribution to women's rights and social justice.
She has also received the YMCA Peace Medallion and the YWCA Women of Distinction Award.
She calls her husband her biggest supporter and wants to share her achievements with him.
Thanks to Rico’s tireless advocacy and her commitment to the refugees and their rights, countless individuals and families have found hope and support in their new homes.
Watch the story below.
Listen to the story here.
Be the first to comment