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?