For years, Opal Robinson, has been caring for children who are new to Canada. However, it was her own travels abroad that transformed her work with children—both within and beyond the CNC program.
Opal, CNC Lead at the Catholic Crosscultural Services LINC location in Peel, always had a desire to do mission work. Over a decade ago, she had the opportunity to lend a helping hand at a Kenyan orphanage. The experience was eye-opening. She saw tremendous need and ended up using all her spending money to buy shoes for the children. As it turns out, Opal was just getting started.
Upon her return to Canada, she realized her time in Africa changed her. “I work with immigrants and have always had compassion for their experiences,” explains Opal. “But after Kenya, I couldn’t look at the children in the CNC program without thinking about the trauma they may have been through. It shifted my whole perspective and made me more sensitive to their needs.”
As a result, she felt she had to do something more for the orphans. Opal started a drive for items like school supplies, clothing, and toiletries–most of which were donated in backpacks. Given the generosity of her extended community, collecting the goods was the easy part. More challenging? Getting them to their intended destination. Not only were shipping costs unreasonable, but there were concerns that once the donations arrived in Africa, they could be intercepted and never reach the orphanage.
This left Opal with a dilemma: so many donations and no way to distribute them. The answer presented itself on a visit to Jamaica, the country she emigrated from over 25 years ago. Her mother, heavily involved in helping the community, suggested she connect with a local school that services children in need. Opal met with the principal of Whitehall Primary School, who was thrilled with the offer of the backpacks.
Once back in Toronto, Opal shipped the donations to Jamaica in barrels–where they were enthusiastically received by the schoolchildren. Yet, there were still so many in need. In 2010, she established a charity– the Only Protecting Another Life (OPAL) Foundation–to continue her mission. Aside from her foundation sending 200$ each month to a community in Kenya to help alleviate hunger through farming, she continues to actively support Whitehall. This ongoing aid has allowed the school to start breakfast and lunch programs, install new benches, and build a fence for safety.
Opal’s assistance is so appreciated, that the school held a ceremony in February to honour her contributions. In addition, when the new CNC manager at the Peel program found out about the foundation and its goals, she also organized a staff party to honour Opal.
“Opal has been leaving her mark in the program by helping, supporting and teaching the new immigrant mothers and their little ones, for over 25 years. She is also a leader working with her O.P.A.L. Foundation. Her optimism, dedication, smile, compassion and humanitarian spirit – have brought her efforts and dreams this far,” says Klara Frasheri, the LINC Language Program Manager at Catholic Crosscultural Services. “‘Care for Children and Their Wellbeing! Making a Change and Saving a Life’ – this is what Opal is motivated by, every single day. We are very proud of her devotion and her success—and we ALL cheer with her and learn from her!”
Over a decade since starting this journey, Opal’s charitable efforts continue to influence her work in the CNC program—and vice versa.
“My job inspires me in every way. As CNC staff, we may hear about the hurdles, the desperation, and the hunger children suffered before immigrating to Canada, but we don’t actually see it. I can comfort the ones in my program–and this makes me wonder: ‘what else can I do for the other children who still face these challenges each day?’”