My journey from Uzbekistan to Calgary
Gulya Taubaldieva (left) with DCC receptionist, Fitore Bajraktari, at our Annual General Meeting on May 10th, 2017.
Gulya Taubaldieva was born and raised in Nukus, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan; a country that was originally under the USSR until it became an independent in 1991. As a young adult, Gulya pursued advanced education by completing her Master’s Degree of Biology and Ecology in Uzbekistan. While in university, Gulya worked as an Education Project Administrator for two years and spent her spare time with her family, friends and church group.
Gulya’s journey began in 2002 when she met and married her husband Bob: “The leader of my church group knew my husband and introduced me to him through email. He told my future husband, ‘She is educated, beautiful and will make a good wife,’” Guyla said with a laugh. Bob and Gulya remained in contact through phone and email for five months until they met in Russia. “He proposed the minute we met. He looked at me and said, ‘You are the one, so why wait?’” said Gulya. Two months later, Bob and Gulya wed not knowing that their life was going to take a rapid and unexpected turn.
Two-years prior to meeting Gulya, Bob had fled his home country in fear of prosecution due to his faith. He came to Russia in search of refuge and freedom, but found little of it until he met Gulya. After Gulya and Bob wed, they returned to Uzbekistan and Gulya found out she was pregnant with their first child. A few weeks later, they were both told to apply for protection under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as their safety was about to be compromised. Within a couple of months the UN offered Gulya and Bob two countries: Canada and the United States.
“Canada was open to take us sooner than the USA,” said Gulya. “That’s ultimately why we chose Canada.” They began to prepare for their journey when Gulya gave birth at 28 weeks. “We were told we could go to Canada right away and that’s what we were going to do, but then my baby was born premature, so we delayed the process.” Gulya had time to reflect on their situation. “I had to follow my husband,” said Gulya. “I knew Canada was a safe country, but I was terrified of leaving my relatives, family and close friends. The uncertainty made me feel hopeless, but at the same time I felt strong and optimistic.”
Settling in Canada
Seven months after beginning the process it was time to leave for Canada. “The UN bought us plane tickets. We didn’t get to choose where we would end up in Canada, but when we found out we were going to Calgary, Alberta, I was thrilled,” Gulya said.
“From the airplane I could see the beautiful landscapes and mountains. I told myself ‘wow… this is going to be a beautiful place.’ Then we landed and it was cold!” laughed Gulya. It was September 2003 and the couple landed at Calgary International Airport where they were greeted by White Hat volunteers who were saying “Welcome to Canada!”
“They were so friendly. I was relieved and happy,” Gulya said. Members of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society met Gulya and Bob and escorted them to the centre where they lived for the next 20 days.
During their stay, they learned about Canadian history, culture, language and rights. “When I discovered there were rights for everyone I was shocked,” said Gulya. “I love that women, men and children all have freedom of speech and educational rights.” Bob and Gulya enrolled in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program at Chinook College, and Bob also searched for work and eventually became a sole proprietor. “There were lots of challenges when we came to Canada, but learning English was one of the biggest barriers,” said Gulya. “I can speak Russian, Karakalpak, Uzbek and now English.”
In addition to the LINC program, Gulya enrolled in ESL clubs and regularly attended Church with Bob. The members of the church offered them assistance and helped Gulya with day-to-day chores such as shopping and navigating the financial system. “It took three to four years before I could speak fluent English and integrate into Canadian culture. I tell others that if you want to be successful in any country you must have the drive to learn – as I did.”
As time went on, Bob and Gulya were able to purchase a house. Bob earned his citizenship and they were both blessed with two more gorgeous children. “I was a stay-at-home mom for several years and I also did bookkeeping for my husband,” said Gulya. “I loved it, but after so many years I knew I wanted to rebuild my professional career. With the kids in school nothing was really stopping me, so I decided to go for it.”
In October of 2015, Gulya enrolled in the Office Administration Program (OAP) at Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA). It is a six month program and included one practicum work placement.
Joining the Distress Centre team
In January of 2016, Gulya began her practicum at Distress Centre Calgary (DCC) where she assisted with reception and performed administrative duties. After graduating, Gulya decided to continue volunteering at DCC one or two days a week.
In August 2016, Gulya was offered a part-time position with DCC assisting Fund Development by maintaining their donor management system. “I have met so many incredible people and have been given real opportunities at DCC. I truly appreciate the non-profits in Canada and I can’t thank my DC family enough,” Gulya said. “I’d like to specifically thank my supervisors Roxanne and Diane who have helped me grow in more ways than I thought was possible. To those who are new to Canada or maybe just new to Calgary… don’t be scared. Just go for it!”
Although Gulya admits that her journey was difficult, she wouldn’t change a thing: “The journey was tough but I have absolutely no regrets. Our life may not get better by chance, but it will definitely get better when you decide to pursue and accept change.”