Introducing… WAFAA!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Wafaa Zaquout. I am a Moving Ahead counselor working with Arabic speaking refugees, mainly from Iraq and Syria.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Since 2011, including some time off for maternity leave.

What inspired you to work here?
There is something inside me that drew me to come here. There is a passion and a sincere, genuine desire to want to help people change their own lives for the better. I wanted to support people to succeed.

How do you spend most of your work time?
Now, it’s mostly with clients. We [MAP counselors] have to divide our time between paperwork and case management. The demand is huge and we have many clients with multi-barrier issues. Time varies between workshops, accompaniments, orientations, and connecting clients to services and resources. I help and encourage them to make their own decision; I want to encourage self-determination for my clients. They are strong, very resilient, and capable.

What advice do you have for your clients?
I want to remind them that they are capable of making decisions and taking on responsibilities. It’s not my job to do that for them. It’s not my business to give advice; I give them information and let them know what options are available. I do my best to empower them to make informed decisions but at the end of the day the decision is theirs.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working population?
Set boundaries and do self-care. This work is very, very rewarding but it’s easy to burn out. It’s great to see and feel the growth in your clients but you need to set boundaries from the work, otherwise it’s easy to lose passion for the work and to experience compassion fatigue or even vicarious trauma.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I love my team and my manager. I find having them around every day is just what I need to recharge my batteries to be able to go on. I love being with the clients and I enjoy interacting with them on a daily basis. I learn from them things that I would not be able to access otherwise. I like helping clients build their self-esteem and helping them to be more self-sufficient and powerful.  And see that happens before my eyes. This is why I’m here.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
When you’re working with people and their lives, it’s very intense. I encounter very difficult moments. Sometimes I feel powerless. There are days with a roller coaster of emotions where I go from happiness to sadness with them. They are humans. They affect me and will be affected by me. Many of them have faced traumatic events. They have been exposed to very difficult situations where they needed to choose between their lives or homes. Hence, I need to be very tactful in communicating and again drawing the line to protect myself from burning out.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
I have friends from all over the world. I would never imagine that my best friend would be from Tanzania. There is a very diverse and very rich environment here. The people here are amazing, with many differences yet are very similar; it’s a lovely, harmonized environment.

How do you de-stress?
Through reading. Reading is my main vent out channel. I make sure to have quality time with my kids. When I see them smile, I’m okay. I’m also a spiritual person.

Do you hide your work from your kids?
I try to put my work behind me when I go home, because I have my own life as well. I want to connect with my kids. But then I make sure to share some of the values I learn from my work with my children.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Japan, London, Italy, Greece. I want to visit everywhere because I know every single country has a very unique, lovely value to offer.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
“America the Book” by Jon Stewart. I am still reading it.

Can you share something you are proud  of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
In our work, it’s not like 1+1=2. It’s different. I feel proud when my clients are on the right track and when they are on in control of their own lives and decisions. I encourage them to be this way. I tell them “I’m here with you.” I want to empower you and to gain skills, tools and knowledge. I want them to become self- sufficient. They love that. They don’t want to feel that they need me. I tell them that on the very first day: you will solve your problems. I will support you and give you information and resources. You will do it, not me. I’m here for you, but you will do it.

What has been surprising for you over the course of your career or what is something you didn’t expect about your current role?
Every case, client and situation is unique. I learn something every day. I learn from the people I help, and I learn about different cultures.

Did you receive training for your work?
We have something called professional development, which is ad hoc and ongoing. We have it all the time. The last training I received was on mental health first aid, which is very relevant. We were taught about how to handle a situation where there is a mental health issue. We also received training on non-violent intervention.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
Of course! My goodness. My knowledge of life is richer and deeper. I am more down to earth, and more in tuned about life. I feel more mature. I love the way I appreciate my life now.

What are the most important personal characteristics for success in the field?
Sincerity and assertiveness.

If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about this refugees or immigrants, what would it be?
That they are humans, not numbers. They have every potential any human would have. They are successful people and are resilient. They are victims in ways, but there are other sides of them that are exactly like us, humans; strong and powerful.

What is one of your pet peeves?


Introducing… TAHZEEM!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Tahzeem Kassam, my role is the Chief Operating Officer.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
20 years.

Can you tell me about your journey here?
I started on June 4 1996 as a part-time, 17.5 hour Volunteer Coordinator. Being a settlement agency our role was to support newcomers in understanding civic engagement through volunteering. I did that for awhile, then because of how funding was shifting, we started really looking at how to change and expand the program delivery, and we started to look at other funding to find a way to sustain some of the work we were doing. In 2000 after I had come back from a 6 month maternity leave, things had changed. At that point, the government had shifted and we didn’t really have funding. My role then changed dramatically because I didn’t really have a volunteer coordinator job anymore. I came back and worked with the agency in a different capacity which was much more administrative. Before, I was working directly with newcomers who were wanting to settle and were using volunteering to get connections and employment references. Now, in both my part-time capacities I was doing a lot of administrative, management, and paper work but no direct service work. It was quite the shock to the system. It took a little bit of adjusting to for sure, and it took awhile to find the passion in that type of work. In 2004 I came back from my second maternity leave. By that point I was heavily involved in the management of program areas. I was overseeing settlement. I then moved to Director of Resources. I stayed in that for a year and a half. It wasn’t just a big job, but it was also my first go at senior management. It was a brand new job, no one really did it before. Stepping into that and
it being new, there was internal dynamics and lots of different factors. There was the open tendering of contracts: all of our settlement and ELSA contracts were being put out to tender instead of being renewed. There was stress on the organization as the majority of programs were going through that process. Managers reporting to me were relatively new through the process and the sector, generally, was going a little haywire. We lost some contracts and it was a very big, heavy year. About a year and a half into that job I took a leave for about a year. When I left an HR position was created, and program oversight directors were created over time. In April 2014 we went back to federal government contracts, which is very different from the provincial government. When we were preparing our proposals under their contracting model, it became quite clear that we were not going to be able to sustain the number of senior management positions. We had a shift in our structure which resulted in our current model, and where I am today.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
When I did my first degree at SFU, about halfway through I realized it wasn’t for me. I had an interest in multiculturalism and integration and biculturality but at that time, in the early 90s, there were no real program streams to study that stuff. I decided a degree in psychology wasn’t going to hurt me, so continued the program and completed it. I did co-op and I also gave myself a year to find a career/path in what I as interested in. I graduated in October of 1995 and started here on June 4 1996. I actually got a job with a person I did an informational interview with! My sister connected me with a few people she did consulting with. She mentioned to me that there was going to be a posting for a volunteer coordinator position. I think why I’m still in it – I’ve said to people over course of time, I’m not doing same thing year after year. I’m still learning things, so why would I leave? Just because I’ve been here for a long time is not a reason to leave. It’s an ever-changing environment. From a big picture we’ve always provided similar programs and the needs don’t change dramatically, but there are still variations and the days are never really the same. I feel like at DIVERSEcity, we really keep the end game in mind. We aren’t just about today. I feel like we’re always thinking about how we can make this better for the client, and thinking about how we can get outcomes for the clients that will move them forward. I think that’s what keeps me working here as opposed to somewhere where I come in, do the job, and go home. I feel like we are small enough to keep somewhat grounded in our geographic region, and to the clients we serve. We’re small enough to keep that present.


How do you spend most of your work time?
I do a lot of meetings and emails. In those those meetings and through emails, I do a lot of traffic control and innovative problem solving. In my capacity as the Chief Operating Officer, I see a lot of potential where x and y should talk. There’s strategic thinking around that. Who else should be involved with this? Who is the potential funder? What’s coming down the pipeline? In problem solving – given the new role as the Chief Operating Officer and the current structure, I can’t literally be in the minutia of the work that mangers do now that I’m seeing 9 or 10 of them. Often I see myself as the point person when managers get stuck. I’m the one thinking outside the box to help overcome the roadblocks in the way of the work that people need to do. I help put puzzle pieces together to get a full picture.

What advice do you have for your immigrants or refugees?
My advice to people would be to not forget their dream. I think that people come here with really high expectations and hopes for what their life will be like here. I know people arrive and it’s so not what they thought it was going to be. It’s very difficult for people to accept that and figure that out. Even if things never get exactly where they thought they would be, my advice is to not just give it up completely. It does get better and it’ll get better if you keep holding on to that dream. I guess I’m a little bit of an eternal optimist. In order to have dreams come true you have to have the vision of the dream, will never come true if lose that.

Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for someone interested in this field?
I think it’s good to know that the not-for-profit sector is not entirely different from the business world. There are still operations to look after, there are still administrative aspects that need to be paid for, and we still need to comply with legislation. There are still business operations.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I think what I enjoy is finding the pathway to success, whether it be a funding thing or how to overcome a particular obstacle in our way. I think that’s what I enjoy, discovering how we can make things work and being willing to be unconventional about how we do those things. Whether it be funding, programming or people telling us we can’t do x or you can’t do y. I enjoy finding a way to negotiate those things and finding solutions that are mutually agreeable.


What are some of the challenges?
The fluidity of contracts and negotiations. Even with 3 year contract, negotiations and changes happen every year on that contract, which is very laborious. There are questions of how do we can sustain and grow things. Sometimes it feels very difficult, like we’re not moving forward but we’re just treading water. Now, we’re pushing beyond that and we’re pushing to grow again.

What do you do outside of work and how do you de-stress?
I enjoy spending time with my kids and doing family stuff like watching movies. I have been trying to find a new work-life balance for me but I haven’t quite struck the balance yet. I’m getting better, I’m getting there, but there’s still a struggle to find that right amount of balance.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Trinidad and Tobago in Caribbean. I’ve always wanted to go there.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
The last book I attempted to read was I am Malala.

Can you share something you are proud of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
My involvement with what’s now the Moving Ahead Program. It started as a different program and I feel like we [five agencies in the lower mainland] have done some good work in developing the model as the way it stands now. We provided the province with the initial model and we also gave them a lot of consultation while they were developing the current model (VIPP).

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
I’m sure it has. I think that it’s been a good relationship given who I am, how I see the world, and what I think is important. I think it’s been a good relationship between me and the work that happens here. I like to think I’ve influenced DIVERSEcity and DIVERSEcity has influenced me.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resume?
I think what impresses me is an openness to expressing a learning perspective, someone who is able to say, “I’m really good at this, but I’ve realized that I can’t do this well.” They really know that they want to pursue this level of skill development. They want to learn and they acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, and they are open to different areas of growth. In my opinion we’re always learning and we can’t stop that. If you think you know it all then you’re not aware of the things you can learn.


If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about this immigrants and refugees, what would it be?
That there is a strength and a resilience that comes from this process. Although they come here and they are newbies in their knowledge base around how we do things, they have an internal strength that those of us who don’t have that experience don’t have and will never have. Picking up and immigrating somewhere, even though you choose to do it, is not a vacation. It’s a very difficult decision, people turmoil over it. It’s not easy process practically or emotionally.

What is something interesting about yourself that you would like to share?
I used to compete in gymnastics.