Women empowering women

Women empowering women

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Contributors:

Jessica Burns

Marwa Kuri immigrated to Canada from Palestine in April 2018 with her husband and two children. A 34-year-old occupational therapist, Marwa struggled to adjust and find employment when she first arrived.

“When I arrived, I felt lost,” she said. “In my family, I’m the leader. I make the decisions, I take the steps to do things. But when we came here, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start, where to go. Everything here was so different.”

She met Suzan Alhajibrahim by chance at a local park, introduced to one another through their daughters who knew each other from school.

An employment and education navigator for the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs, Suzan introduced Marwa to the centre and its programming.

“She was so encouraging,” said Marwa. “She messaged me and told me, ‘Just come. You will benefit from this. We will help you.’”

Along with colleague Abdul Alsaidan, Suzan developed a series of women’s workshops focussed on employment, education and entrepreneurship, and aimed specifically at newcomers to Canada.

A newcomer herself, she came to Canada in September 2017 from Palestine—where she had spent the previous nine years working for non-profit organizations. Most recently she worked as the Women’s Economic Empowerment Coordinator for Oxfam International.

“My passion for this came from my passion for working with women back in my country,” said Suzan.

The first workshop took place in July and was called Fadfadah—an Arabic word meaning to share what weighs on one’s mind without any barriers.

“The aim of the series is to increase awareness with regards to employment and postsecondary education and options,” said Suzan. “We created this initiative for women who are struggling and who need a place to talk and express their feelings to each other.”

Feedback from the participants of the Fadfadah workshop prompted a second session, with a specific focus on employment. Women told Suzan they didn’t need lectures, but peer-to-peer support to talk about their experiences with people who speak the same language.

The workshops, for Marwa, were hugely helpful. “There are other women that share the same challenges, problems and difficulties that I face. I’m an occupational therapist and I worked for 10 years in a hospital and suddenly I came here, and I couldn’t find a job in my field. I felt sad about this. I love my job as an OT. I felt alone.” “But when I came here, and I saw these amazing women—a lot of them are professionals with master’s and PhDs—and they shared the same exact problems, I felt I would have support. When I speak they will understand, they will know what I’m talking about.”

The positive response prompted a third workshop in October focused on women in entrepreneurship. The guest speaker was Enas Jawad. Enas immigrated to Canada from Iraq in 2010. An early childhood educator with a master’s degree in fine arts, she opened and operates Little Picasso Daycare & Art Centre in Halifax.

With Suzan’s help, Marwa gained employment as an intake worker and receptionist for the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs. She’s paying forward some of the help that was given to her by Suzan when she first arrived in Canada. “I believe in the YMCA values and in helping people who need help,” said Suzan. “There is nothing more important in the world than helping others. I’m very proud to be part of this amazing organization.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Guest Post

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