$500 worth of hope for Venezuelan newcomer

While $500 may not be a significant amount of money, for refugee Luis Nieves, it means a new beginning as a newcomer as he continues his studies at Fanshawe College.

Luis Nieves arrived to Canada three years ago with a few hundred dollars and a suitcase full of dreams

Newcomer Luis Nieves received a $500 scholarship to help with his education. While the money isn't much, for him it symbolizes he's left a life of struggle in the past. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

$500 means different things to different people.

For some, it's their monthly payment to their credit card, for others it's what they spend on groceries each month, but for Luis Nieves, it's the stepping stone to accomplishing his dream of finishing his career. The 22-year-old refugee is the recipient of a $500 scholarship from the Cross Cultural Leaner Centre (CCLC).

Nieves arrived alone to Canada three years ago from Venezuela; all he had with him were just a couple hundred dollars and a suitcase full of dreams.

"It wasn't easy," Nieves said. "My parents bought the ticket for me and gave me everything they had left for me to come here."

His home country, which already faced food shortages and hyperinflation, plunged deeper into an economic, political and social crisis in 2013 after former president Hugo Chavez died of cancer and his processor Nicolas Maduro took power. 

Under that backdrop and Nieves' opposition to the regime, he feared for his life and came to the Canada as a refugee.  

"My life wasn't safe there, my future wasn't the one I had been fighting for, so I left everything I had, everything I had even known, my family and my friends and I moved here to start from scratch," Nieves said. 

A new beginning

Upon his arrival, Nieves was able to settle in at Joseph's House, a small residence operated by the CCLC and the Sister of St. Joseph, that provides temporary accommodation to refugees in London.  

"It was a struggle when I came here," Nieves said. " But, [Josephs' House] was a beautiful experience for me." 

There he learned everything from how to cook and how generous Canadians can be.

While settling in a new country came with hardships, including loneliness and a not-so-great financial situation, Nieves was grateful to be here. 

"This country has something that a lot of people take for granted, which is freedom," he said.  

"Enjoying a walk, being outside at night, things that might sound silly to some people, but it's something we don't have in my country," he added. 

During his year-long stay at Josephs' House, Nieves was able to study English and, while his two years of medicine studies at a Venezuelan university weren't recognized, he was able to complete his Canadian high school education while working two jobs to support himself. 

A sign of hope in the form of a cheque

While Joseph's House provided Nieves with shelter, he says it has also given him hope.

The CCLC offers a $500 Joseph's House scholarship. The purpose of the program is to help individuals with refugee backgrounds who have stayed at Josephs' House to pursue higher education in Canada. 

"It has been a long path ... The money isn't much, but in terms of emotions it means a lot for me," Nieves said. 

"Sometimes my goals seem so far away, but it's the little things like this that tell me 'yes, you can make it.'"

The CCLC is happy they've been able to provide this support to Nieves.

"It's really exciting," said Tarek Moharram, chair of the CCLC board. "There are so many folks that are coming here through difficult challenges trying to restart their lives and doing the best to contribute to our society."

Nieves, who is currently a Fanshawe College student, hope to obtain a university degree in the near future. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Nieves is now studying Fitness and Health Promotion at Fanshawe College, but hopes to pursue a University degree in a health related field in the coming years.

He says the scholarship will allow him to get a health certification that will bring him one step closer to a university degree. 

"The scholarship marks the end of a stage. It means that the struggle is kind of behind me and now it's time to move on and look forward to life," he said.  

"I'm really happy for this opportunity. It just motivates me more to keep pushing myself harder toward my goals," he added. 

Nieves hopes Londoners continue to donate to the CCLC, in order to continue to offer this scholarship.

"You're contributing to someone who might feel like there's no hope. It's good to know that you've helped someone who wants it, but doesn't have the opportunity."


Sofia Rodriguez


Sofia Rodriguez is a multimedia journalist with CBC News in London. You can email her at