Carlos Arturo Calderon Castillo arrived in London in December 2016, with wife Sirley, who was pregnant at the time, and their seven-year-old son. Originally from Colombia, Carlos and Sirley had been working to support farmers who were trying to grow new vegetable crops by helping them create financial plans and apply for government benefits. But, due to safety concerns, they fled the country for Canada, where Carlos has two aunts who live in London.
It was difficult to adjust to the Canadian climate and lifestyle for a family who was accustomed to living well in Colombia, and Carlos says he initially started volunteering as a way to help not only others, but himself.
“I needed to change my mind, and say this is my home – I need to put all my love and all my work into starting again,” he says. “When you start to help others, you create a big family. You start to see friends everywhere you go.”
He enrolled in English as a Second Language class, then began looking for ways to contribute in London.
Soon Carlos got involved with his church and London’s large Latin American community, and he learned that many immigrants were struggling to adapt to their new home.
The City of London has a large and growing Spanish-speaking population and many people Carlos spoke to were having difficulty understanding Canada’s tax and banking systems. It was stressful and confusing, and some people were in serious debt. Carlos wanted to help.
He and his friend Andres Ramirez launched Paz Financiera, which means Financial Peace, in London. Their goal was to explain Canadian rules for filing taxes and inform people of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to banking and credit card use in their new country.
“Banks work very different other countries. Many people were having difficulties,” he says. “For example, in some countries, it is not mandatory to file taxes if your income is under a certain amount, so some people didn’t understand that it was different here.”
The work he was doing felt good. People appreciated the help and some said the knowledge they gained through Carlos had been life-changing.
So, he and Andres set out to do more, by joining volunteers at the London tax clinic, where they could assist any Londoner in need of tax help.
He sees the volunteering as an opportunity to help not only others, but himself. “Every day we have the opportunity to learn new things. It is beautiful to do it in a place where we can feel safe and supported.”