New non-profit aims to help international students find equal opportunities in Manitoba

Two Manitoba students have created their own non-profit organization to provide newcomers and international students with more equal opportunities.

Post-secondary students started group to help others in areas like job hunting

A composite photo shows a smiling man on the left and a smiling woman on the right.
Akhil Damodharan and Khushi Kalra say international students are often pushed into exploitative work conditions in order to make ends meet. (Submitted by Khushi Kalra)

International post-secondary students contribute nearly $400 million to Manitoba's economy each year, but Akhil Damodharan and Khushi Kalra say they see too many of those students continue to struggle.

The two Manitoba post-secondary students, who both immigrated from India to Canada as children, have created their own non-profit to provide newcomers and international students with more equal opportunities.

"We saw that immigrants coming to this country were being treated unfairly," Damodharan said in a Saturday interview with CBC Weekend Morning Show host Keisha Paul.

"They had to take three, four, five extra steps to get what they needed to get done — stuff like getting into university requires an extra step … or an extra cost."

The started their non-profit to help give students an equal platform, he said.

They're calling their organization Rey — a name Kalra says was inspired by the Star Wars hero, and is meant to suggest "resilience."

It aims to help international students in three key areas — providing legal, medical and navigational resources.

That includes things like helping students find part-time work — even arranging meetings with potential employers, Damodharan said — or helping connect people with homes to rent with students who need a place to live.

Kalra, who said her parents immigrated to Canada so she could avoid international student fees, says many of the international students she meets need that help, as they struggle financially.

"[International students] usually have to pay an insane amount of fees," she told The Weekend Morning Show.

In addition to their studies, many also take on paying jobs, "so that they don't have to ask for money back home to their parents," she said.

However, international students are limited to working 20 hours a week — not nearly enough to cover rent or textbooks, she said.

Another part of the problem, Kalra said, is that many immigrants have degrees that are not recognized in Canada.

"They put in that amount of work and money and then they moved to this country for better opportunities, but then you end up working at grocery stores."

Damodharan's family moved to Canada with dreams of more opportunities and an "easier" life, which he says turned out to be unrealistic.

"[It's] just as [hard] or twice as hard for an immigrant to get these jobs, get these opportunities, because as an immigrant, you have to prove that you're worth more," said Damodharan.

He said he'd like to see more policies put in place to give immigrants equal educational and employment opportunities, as well as help with becoming a permanent resident or citizen.

Both Damodharan and Kalra say they are eager to help international students, despite studying and working themselves. 

"I think both of our parents are very, deep down … very proud, but immigrant parents will never say it," said Kalra.