BY BILL PHILLIPS
The Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society building on Second Avenue is now the Baljit Sethi Centre.
It was renamed in her honour Saturday before about 50 friends, dignitaries, and former co-workers. Sethi pioneered services for immigrants in Prince George and for the past 40 years her name has been synonymous with helping new Canadians find their way in their new home.
“I always believed in working in the community, working for the community, and people, if they don’t need my services, my services don’t mean anything.” said Sethi.
Those services, such as help filling out immigration papers, legal help, for just help adjusting to life in Canada, were most certainly needed.
Sethi and her husband Bal are originally from India. They emigrated to Canada in the early 1970s. They landed in Vancouver where she started working for Immigrant Services Society of BC. They were encouraged by friends to visit Prince George and they made their way North, liked the country, and decided to make the move North.
She considered getting into real estate but, even though she had given quit working for the Immigrant Services Society, she was pressed to help immigrants coming to Prince George.
It soon became clear to Sethi that Prince George needed its own group to handle immigrants and in 1981 the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society was formed. She served as the society’s executive director until last year when she retired. In the meantime, IMSS has grown from a fledgling organization with a couple of staff, to one of the largest service organizations in northern B.C. with its own building and 20 staff members.
“I was determined to do all these things, but without support it can’t be done,” she said, crediting the help of MLA Shirley Bond and successive mayors and councils. Bond and Sethi have teamed up on many things and continue to present the Healthier You Awards in Prince George as well as host a Women’s Day breakfast.
“I still remember the day, as a very new, very eager elected official, this force of a woman marched into my office, to talk about to me about the role I to ensure our community and province were welcoming, inclusive and supportive of those who choose to make Canada a better place,” said Bond. “People talk about building walls and closing doors, IMSS and Baljit are all about opening doors and opening communities.”
She said Sethi taught her that she represents all of her constituents.
Bond also recognized Sethi’s husband Bal.
“Without a great partner, without a great spouse, friend, someone behind you, you can’t do the work you’re called on to do,” she said.
Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty said Prince George is fortunate to have had Sethi working here for the past 40 years.
“You have taught us so much,” said Doherty. “You never stop teaching us all. The beauty and wonder of Canada is that we’re all from somewhere and our multicultural quilt envelopes our country.”
Mayor Lyn Hall also praised Sethi for her work in the community and, on behalf of council, presented her with a sketch drawing of the centre. Hall also pointed out that Sethi and IMSS have helped not only immigrants, but refugees. In fact, some of the Syrian refugees the community took in last year were in the audience.
“When (the Syrian refugees) arrived as the airport, there were a number of us there to greet the first families from Syrian,” he said. “Standing there and waiting with open arms, was IMSS. Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for this organization and the leadership of Baljit, the refugees would have had the most difficult time making their way through our community … This organization has stepped up.”
Jacob Madjitey, on behalf of the board, presented Sethi with a lifetime achievement award from IMSS.