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Making PEI a more welcoming place

Important friendships can change the course of your life. Twenty years ago, Thilak Tennekone and his wife Hema were involved with the Canada Youth Program when they met and became good friends with Islanders Brian and Beth Cudmore.

Based on their friendship and what they had seen of PEI, they decided to make the Island their home. Fast forward two decades and Tennekone is now the diversity coordinator for the Prince Edward Island’s Public Service Commission and has been nominated as a finalist for the Royal Bank of Canada's Canadian Immigrant Awards.

The Tennekone’s (Thilak, Hema and their two sons, Gayan and Jayoda) were the first Sri Lankan family to settle on Prince Edward Island. There are now 25 Sri Lankan families living in Prince Edward Island.

“It is never easy for immigrants moving to a new country,” Tennekone says, noting it was tough at first as a Buddhist when there were no Buddhist temples or community. “When I came to Canada, from the bottom of my heart, I wanted to be a role model for new immigrants coming to PEI.”

He believes people want to learn about other cultures, see dances, share music and food etc. He says creating meeting places for newcomers and Islanders to learn about and understand differences and similarities is important.

Tennekone was involved in creating the very successful International Tea House, which is now in its 22nd year and he was also in on the ground floor in the creation of the Newcomers Association. For the International Day for Elimination of Racism, Tennekone worked with the Town of Stratford to present a multicultural fashion show.

He says people want to come to PEI, to stay here and to raise their children. “Our challenge is to create support systems and programs to help meet their needs (like employment training and job opportunities) so they will stay.”

He says it is easier to develop partnerships between immigrants and their neighbours, their government and other organizations in a small rural province like the Island. In larger cities, immigrant groups tend to live, work and stick together in neighbourhoods, where on the Island, there is much more opportunity to get to know each other and integrate with neighbours of all different backgrounds.

Tennekone is very pleased to see the relatively recent increase in the number of people from different countries that now call the Island home and honored to be nominated for this prestigious award. Vote for him at
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