“I felt as soon as I moved here this is my home. I dreamed about living in this place.”
Nikki, her husband, Beamer and their two small children, Ligrit and Gentrit, arrived in Summerside in May 1999 after fleeing the war in Kosovo.
Nikki fled her home in the early morning hours carrying her two young sons, a little food and clothes to escape the escalating war.
“I had a career. I was a nurse there,” she said.
“When I left the house it was three months before I heard if my family was alive or dead. That was the hardest part.”
Days earlier Beamer had fled Kosovo with Nikki’s brother-in-law.
“They were taking the males and killing them in front of the families,” said Nikki.
The family was reunited in a refugee camp in Macedonia and eventually travelled to Canada.
“I am so lucky that I am here, that my kids don’t have to go through this. They don’t remember. But this is nothing. Other people went through a lot, more than us.”
Nikki and Beamer took English classes, settled into a small two-bedroom apartment and, with the help of the community and their sponsors, adjusted to Island life.
“We had big help. The sponsors and the volunteers were always there for us. I established here pretty quick. The people were so friendly, smiling faces everywhere you go,” she recalled.
“It was so warm. You feel like you were safe. You just feel free. I can’t describe how good it was.”
They soon had a third son, Ardit. Beamer went to work and, soon after, so did Nikki.
It wasn’t always easy, working opposite shifts with three small children at home.
But, added Nikki, “We knew you had to work if you want to have something for your kids, a good life.”
In 2006, they bought a downtown pizza business Beamer was working for and, four years ago, bought their first home, a momentous occasion for the family that came to Canada with nothing.
They’ve opened up a second restaurant in Kensington and their sons are thriving.
“They are pretty happy here. They like to go for visits home (to Kosovo). They don’t want to move.”
Nikki has shared her experience with other immigrants and is helping with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEIANC). The association has also aided Nikki in bringing other family members to P.E.I.
“They are always there for us and helping us with what we need, which is amazing.”
Craig McKie, the association’s executive director, said its office based at Summerside City Hall has more than 200 clients in the area and more than 5,000 across Prince Edward Island.
“The majority of those 5,000 came through the Provincial Nominee Program. Somewhere between 60 and 100 a year are refugees to Prince Edward Island,” said McKie. “You have other people who are coming through other programs, skilled worker programs, and students that come to study at Holland College or UPEI and apply for permanent residency.”
He admitted retaining newcomers to P.E.I. isn’t easy but is improving. Recent studies indicate about a third of those who come to P.E.I. do stay.
“We see that more and more as people settle and stay here, them bringing their parents or extended family to the Island. We are seeing a small but growing trend that way.”
And, added McKie, the association is seeing more immigrants who leave and later return.
“They say to me it’s a good place to raise a family, I know my neighbours, I know where my kids are, it’s safe,” he added. “When they say that to other people that move here, it reinforces the life that we have on Prince Edward Island.”
There are hurdles for immigrants, some much easier to overcome than others.
“There are really three things that have to work in order for an immigrant to stay on P.E.I. The first is the ability to speak English or French. The second thing is employment or self-employment,” said McKie. “But the third piece that can often be a make or break for people staying on P.E.I. is the social inclusion. If people feel welcome, included, connected, then they will stay much longer. That’s a real challenge for us.”
It’s a challenge the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada is trying to overcome by offering whatever services it can to make integrating into Island society as seamless and comfortable as possible.
The association offers a website featuring almost everything imaginable that a newcomer would need to know about navigating Island life, from where to shop and what documents needed once they arrive, to programs and events aimed at connecting those newly landed immigrants with each other.
All documents, as well as PEIANC’s website, are available in seven different languages.
“When someone does a Google search in Arabic one of the first sites that pops up is our site on Prince Edward Island,” said McKie. “We are becoming a small gateway on the Internet to Canada.”
The Sadikus have now been on P.E.I. more than a decade and have comfortably settled into Island life, a life that has been good to them and one Nikki says they wouldn’t change.
“I know my boys are happy here and they are going to achieve. I want to make sure they are going to go to school. We worked hard for this,” she said as she sits in the family’s Water Street restaurant minutes before opening for the day. “The thing is, my kids can do anything they want here.”
She counts herself lucky to have had the support of the community, the association, her new ‘Island family’, their customers and friends.
But, most of all Nikki is thankful to be in Summerside.
“It’s a small city with a big heart.”