Chris Pullenayegem

Country of Origin:

Sri Lanka

Themes:

Citizenship, Immigration, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity, Adjusting to Life in Canada, Refugee Experiences

Photos:

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Chris speaks on the different elements of Canadian society that he took part in to help settle into the new country.


Bio

Chris is a specialist in organizational change and cultural diversity. He runs his own consulting company, Learning4Change. He is also a cricket coach and a board member of many organizations.

Story

Hi, I’m Chris Pullenayegem. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka. I migrated to Canada in 2001 with my family. My thoughts go back to 1983 when pressure was on us to leave the country because of an ethnically based conflict. I had just been married for about two years and my eldest daughter was 1 year old. I have a last name that identified me as belonging to an ethnic minority group (Tamil) although I am ethnically a Colombo Chetty, another very small ethnic minority in Sri Lanka. In 1983 some Sinhalese soldiers – Sinhalese being the ethnic majority – were killed in the northern part of the country, where most of the Tamils lived. As a response to that, some Sinhalese in the south (where I lived) created a riot by going after Tamil people living in the area, with the intent of killing them and/or destroying their property. This was an orchestrated move, of course, and I can still remember the fear and anxiety of those weeks in July 1983. For years thereafter our relatives overseas begged of us to leave the country.

We didn’t leave for twenty years after that. We decided that we would stay back realizing that we still had much to give to our country. We just didn’t feel at peace to "up and go". Twenty years later, we had to do some long term thinking about our children’s future in terms of studies and options for them. Having the advantage of travelling the world while in Sri Lanka, a country that really grabbed our attention, as one that projected certain values that we espoused and liked, was Canada. We applied as economic immigrants and moved to Canada in 2001.

Settling down here had its challenges, as most immigrants would agree. Obtaining affordable housing was a problem. Even though we brought money with us, we had problems securing a bank account. Fortunately my wife found a job within one month of us arriving, which helped us move to our own apartment. My eldest daughter got a scholarship to York University, which also helped us financially. Two things that really helped us, to settle down were: finding a church where we could belong and have a community in which we felt a sense of belonging while the other was finding opportunities to help and to volunteer. Apart from taking the focus off us and our challenges, we realized that there are a number of people here who need our help, and are in much more difficult situations than we find ourselves in. Volunteering also helped develop networks through which we found contacts for employment opportunities.

We love Canada and we love the diversity in Toronto. It would be hard to imagine another city where one would come into contact with so many people from so many countries. That's my (short) story. I now live in Richmond Hill, have two grandchildren and run my own consultancy. You can check me out at Learning4change.com