Maria Kliavkoff has been shortlisted as one of the finalists for the seventh annual Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards.
The 49-year-old Radium resident, who immigrated from the United States of America, has been living in Canada for a decade now.
The RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards are a unique way to recognize inspirational immigrants who have relocated to Canada and made a positive difference while living here. It is a peoples’ choice award to feature the efforts of community advocates, volunteers, entrepreneurs and cultural icons based on an online voting system.
“The whole nature of this makes me feel deeply honoured,” said Maria about becoming one of 75 nominees to move onto the next round.
She is in the race until May 11th, when the polls for online voting close on the Canadian Immigrant website.
“I was informed the top 25 finalists who win this award would also be eligible to win $500 to give to their preferred charities… my declared charity is the Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley,” she said. “It would be lovely to be a vehicle whereby another $500 comes to the society.
“And what the award means to me, well, I don’t know how to explain what it means to be an immigrant in another country. Many people think that if you’re immigrating from the United States of America, it’s not (such) a lengthy process), but the reality is an immigrant in a new country is an immigrant in a new country, no matter where you’re old country is. There are different cultures, there are different attitudes. It’s all about finding your place in a new home and becoming part of that society.”
The concept of relocating has always been a prominent part of Maria’s life. Her parents escaped Bulgaria during the uprising after the Second World War in 1956. A visit to Bulgaria as a child played a role in shaping Maria’s perspective on the world around her.
“I’m first generation American,” she said. “My father is Bulgarian and my mother is Hungarian, and at a very early age (on a visit to Bulgaria) when I was nine, I discovered what it is not to have rights within a country. I was thrown out of Bulgaria with my mother and my brother even though we had visas — and it was after a week of experiencing what it is to be terrorized.”
She added the experience is still etched vividly in her mind.
“The part of my family that lives in Bulgaria… I will never forget going to that plane and being desperate to get to that plane, but looking back and seeing my family and by some stroke of fate and the courage of my ancestors, I got to get on that plane,” said Maria. “I got freedom and they couldn’t.”
The journey of coping with the stark reality of having family who live in an Eastern European country with a devastating history wasn’t always an easy one, she added. It’s a big part of why Maria’s life took shape in Canada.
“Before you become a landed immigrant, there’s a big process,” she explained. “I came (to Canada) as a student. The time when I was on a student visa and then a landed immigrant visa before I became a citizen of Canada — and that was a 10-year process — and not being able to vote in the country that I lived in was a huge challenge for me.
“Having grown up in the United States, the right to representation in the government and to have your voice heard is something that I treasure. Moving to Canada, which is a country that shares the same value and attitude about the people’s right to voice their opinion and be represented, but not to have that voice because you’re not a citizen and yet you live there, well, that’s a right that my ancestors fled their homeland in order to be able to have.”
Maria believes the life experiences she’s had make her a compassionate listener and a curious person.
“Life is such an up and down proposition,” she concluded. “We go through different processes and we all experience many of the same processes’ for instance, the dying or grieving process, but we each experience it in our very own, individualized way.”
Maria has a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Calgary and a bachelor of arts in psychology and theatre arts from Hunter College in New York.
In addition, she has completed personal development training in Victoria.
But the idea of bringing rural communities together with patience and kindness is now Maria’s focus.
She is the founding executive director of the Hospice Society of the Columbia Valley and remains determined to help others grieve.
“It is such an honour and a privilege to live in and serve this community, and to bring my life experience to this job and to this work,” said Maria. “I have landed, after all of the places that I have lived, in such a beautiful part of the world… the community of the Columbia Valley is unlike any community that I have ever lived in before, and I have a great passion for the people.”
To vote for Maria, visit www.canadianimmigrant.ca/canadas-top-25-immigrants/vote before May 11th. The top 25 winners will be announced on June 23rd.