Introducing… CHANCHAL!

cksWhat is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Chanchal Sidhu, Manager of Multicultural and Community Programs.

I oversee part of the settlement program, the volunteer program, the food security programs, and seniors’  programs and initiatives… plus a few other things 🙂

Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in Canada to Indian immigrants and grew up on a fairly isolated berry and then vegetable farm with primarily Dutch and German neighbours. I had no idea how diverse Canada was until high school!

After university I dove right into the non-profit world with my first job at UNICEF. Since then I have worked at different kinds of non-profits in various roles-often at two places at once since many non-profits only offer part time work. At each place I learned new skills or information which always came in handy later. Only once or twice did I work in a for-profit environment and I was amazed at how simple everything was! Non-profits can be challenging and complex in many ways but I have realized this sector is definitely the right one for me.

I have also done a decent bit of travelling and have worked overseas. I thinking living or working abroad is a great way to learn about yourself, grow, and give you all sorts of new perspectives on things. The  skills you develop come in handy in life and in the workplace!

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
4 years as of last October.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
I was inspired to take this job because of my husband. He is an immigrant from the former USSR and when he came here it was very (and I mean very) difficult for him. This surprised me. Even though I was aware of how difficult the settlement process is, because my own parents are immigrants and I lived and worked abroad for a time so had a taste of navigating life in a foreign culture/system, seeing someone struggle through that process here in Canada was eye opening. This was especially the case since his barriers were low-medium compared to many other immigrants.

I realized I had taken many things for granted as someone who has always had a very well established ethnic community here and as someone who was born in Canada. All my life I have been gradually exposed to and taught to navigate and understand Canadian systems, norms, and values etc. You do not really realize how ingrained it is until you see someone else trying to understand those things.

I applied for this particular job because I thought I had some good ideas as to how to support newcomers and I wanted to learn more about the sector in general. I find migration and settlement a very interesting topic. I also like how the local work connects to the big picture on the provincial, national, and global level.

How do you spend most of your work time?
My role has changed a lot in the 4 years that I have worked here. I started as one of the Co-Managers of Community Development and then as the Manager of Settlement and Community Programs. I was first covering someone’s maternity leave so there was a lot of program management at a maintenance level which meant problem solving, working with external stakeholders on joint initiatives, making sure targets were met, ensuring the budget was utilized appropriately and that reports were completed. Tahzeem, my boss, told me to expect a lot of work around human resources management. She was right!

Since then, there have been many changes in this sector and in my role, as well as how DIVERSEcity operates. Now, not only do I do the above, but I also get to come up with new program ideas, apply for funding, work on strategic initiatives, and much more. Two days are never alike and there is constant change (which is something I like). I also represent the agency on several committees and but one of my favourite things is helping to make interactions with and working at DIVERSEcity positive. This could be by putting on a staff event with the social committee, suggesting new policies that benefit program participants, taking on summer students or interns who are interested in the work we do, or even keeping the Facebook page up to date.

What advice do you have for newcomer clients?
There is lots of advice I can give! But, the main thing I will highlight here is to really make an effort to try to get involved and become part of the community as this will be home now. This could be as simple as trying to use English. I think eventually most immigrants get their basic issues resolved out of necessity through friends, family, their communities, or agencies like ours, but it can take years before many really feel like they are part of the community or even have a friend. One friend can make a world of difference in a newcomer’s settlement experience and having and building that sense of belonging is important. It can also be easy to stay within one’s neighbourhood or ethnic group but moving beyond that can really illuminate to a newcomer what makes Canada great.

My other advice is to not lose hope. Settlement is a long process and may take years. Many people struggle when they first arrive and contemplate returning home – especially those who do not speak English. Sometimes some encouragement is all that is needed and an agency like DIVERSEcity can help show it is possible to settle successfully. The initial years of struggle may one day be fondly remembered and stories from that time may be told to kids or grandkids! If nothing else, it will probably be a period of personal growth.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with this population?
As a manager, I am looking for staff who not only have some professional (or volunteer) experience related to the position they are applying for but also those who understand immigration and settlement journeys and experiences. Transferable skills are important and should be highlighted as many of our staff often do not have directly related experience when they first start as this is a very unique area of work. Being able to learn quickly and navigate Canadian systems is important since one never knows what needs clients will have when they come to meet you for the first time. It really can be anything.

For someone interested in being a program manager, I would say the agency is usually looking for those who have some experience in the following three areas: human resources management, program management, and financial management. Beyond that, communication skills, common sense, and flexibility are important. There is constant change in some areas of the agency so a love of change may be ideal for those areas!

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I love that I am still learning new things (and developing new skills), that I get to use some of the strengths I think I have to offer, and that the nature of my work is very diverse. No two days or seasons are alike which is one of the reasons I have stayed at DIVERSEcity for four years. I also like having a fair bit of autonomy in my work and that I get the opportunity to get involved in some of the other department or agency-wide initiatives as well.

What are some of the challenges you face at work?
There are so many needs and areas of importance that could use attention. Some are well funded and easy to respond to and there are others that are difficult to bring attention and resources to. Trying to be strategic in deciding where to put energy is challenging for me as I usually want to do it all! I have not said “no” to projects very often while working here but this will not be sustainable and I am trying to learn to be more selective and focused.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
The people! The staff, the managers, the volunteers, the students & interns, and the clients. Everyone has a unique history and something to offer and contribute. I could spend all day every day just talking to people within our walls. I learn so much from these people and am also amazed at how much it is possible to have in common despite having such different backgrounds, languages, cultures, religions, worldviews etc. It’s great to see all our experiences and work come together in one place.

What do you do outside of work or how do you de-stress?
I like organic gardening in the summer (I get lots of tips from Sasikala, our Community Garden Coordinator!), I read fiction almost daily, and I spend time with friends and family. I love animals and travelling when possible. To de-stress I like to have a catch-up session with friends over wine or stay in and watch bad reality tv shows…also with wine 🙂 Pinot noir is my favourite right now.

Which country or city would you like to visit?
All of them. I think every place has something to offer.

However, my husband will finally be a citizen in 2017 so am looking forward to more international trips. Citizenship requirements meant for the last few years he needed to be physically in Canada. The next trip outside of Canada or the US will probably be to somewhere in the Middle East. Other than that, we need to visit my husband’s family in his country and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Where was your last trip?
Other than the US and Mexico, I last travelled to Turkey & Egypt.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
The book I read last is called Euphoria by Lily King. It is about a pair of married anthropologists in a love triangle studying tribal cultures in New Guinea in the 1930’s. It is inspired by Margaret Mead’s life and touches on competing egos in the marriage. I could not put it down and read it in one day!

What are your pet peeves?
Having hot food in the car. Never ask me to pick up takeout! Not sure why but I can’t stand it.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
Yes. I appreciate Canada much more. When I was younger and travelling I was always trying to get away from “boring” Canada and was interested in seeing the world. I still am interested in this, of course, but I have developed much deeper feelings of appreciation for and belonging to this great nation.

I have also realized, as silly as it sounds, I am really Canadian! Sometimes it takes exposure to non-Canadians and aspiring Canadians to realize what this means.

Finally, I feel we really are lucky to live here and, though there is always room for improvement, we have a pretty great society. In many ways, what our government does in comparison to some other governments is really remarkable.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resumé?
There are always basic qualifications we look for depending on the position. However, those who can demonstrate that they have taken on challenge or initiative on their own are the ones that impress me the most. Those who can demonstrate through their resumé or interview that they’ve gone above and beyond – illustrated through, for example, volunteering and other things they chose to do with their time or life – is impressive.

I feel that, in the non-profit sector in particular, you need to have enthusiasm and be passionate about your work in order to do a good job. This needs to come from within and is not something someone can provide for you.

If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about the refugee and immigrant population, what would it be?
I think there are many misconceptions about immigrants and refugees that could be addressed. A read through of the public comments section of any immigrant or refugee related news story online illustrates this clearly.

Agencies like ours do a lot of work helping newcomers get oriented to and settled in Canada which is great and very important. However, I think the people who are already here and settled need to think about how we, as Canadians, can be more inclusive and supportive of newcomers in order to better develop and establish the type of society we want. I think we have a larger role in this that is not often promoted or discussed but perhaps should be.

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Introducing… JANICE!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Janice Bexson, and I am the Manager of Language Programs.

Can you talk a little bit about the Language Programs Department?
We provide free language and literacy programs for newcomers to Canada. The government-funded LINC program (classes ranging from pre-literacy up to workplace 7/8) are a large part of the portfolio. As well as traditional language learning, we deliver literacy classes which are structured to better support individual learner needs.  The literacy classes are in conjunction with the Moving Ahead Program (MAP).  LINC child care is another component, where the young children of LINC students attend childcare and increase their social, emotional, and cognitive skills through a play-based curriculum, so they are better prepared for kindergarten. We also provide informal conversation circles to support students with ongoing English language practice. 

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Just over 2 months – I’m currently on a steep learning curve!

Did you have experience with language programs before this position?
Yes, through my work with non-profit agencies. I am a trained language teacher (TESL certification from the University of Saskatchewan). I taught when I first arrived in Canada, but found that teaching ESL was not my first love. I was also an Early Childhood Educator for several LINC/ELSA programs at the very beginning of my career in Canada. Although I have been in management for over 15 years, this is my first time managing a language program.

What inspired you to work here?
In BC, I’ve worked in the non-profit sector mainly in Greater Vancouver, but not in the Fraser Valley. I enjoy new challenges, and saw this agency as a good opportunity to use and extend my skills and knowledge within a different community. My desire is to explore unique ways to be innovative with the services in Language Program Department.

How do you spend most of your work time?
I don’t think I’ve seen the true picture yet, because I began employment at a time where the department was in significant transition. Right now, I am engaged in managing and guiding those changes which include departmental structure, staffing, programming, and administration. Change takes time and energy, so I imagine that most of my time will be based within the office at this point. 

What advice do you have for immigrants and refugees in general?
I would encourage newcomers to connect to as many community resources as possible. I tell newcomers to be patient and believe in themselves, as it takes time to become acclimatized. Many newcomers feel isolated and alone, so they may lose confidence in connecting with others. Build your network and new doors will eventually open.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with the immigrant or refugee population?
I think you need know yourself first and have an objective: if this is what I want to do, why do I want to do it? What’s propelling me to do that? Do I have the temperament to work with newcomers? What does the work entail? Are there are different ways I can work with newcomers? Ask yourself these questions and more, and reflect first. It is rewarding and challenging work.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Staff and the clients; there are so many diverse personalities and energies. So far, learning about my peers and clients has been instrumental in helping me find my feet regarding the work at the agency.

What are some of the constraints you face in trying to fulfill your role?
The programs in the Language Programs Department are considered highly stable compared to other initiatives and projects, so I’m very grateful for the established environment. A challenge is staying abreast of technology so that our classrooms are responsive and reflective to how our world is socializing. and so that we can provide a variety of learning platforms. A long wait list of students is evident that learning space is issue, so being innovative with the established budget could be considered a constraint, when looking at renting/leasing alternate space or providing software for online platforms.

What do you do outside of work/what are your hobbies and interests/how do you de-stress?
This sounds extreme, but I’m either the party person or I’m the quiet person who needs her space. I love going to concerts and dancing, playing tennis and being active. On the other hand, I really, really need time and space by myself. I love to read or I love to “just be.” Reflection grounds and balances me. If I don’t get balance regularly, I’m really out of sorts. 

What country/city would you like to visit?
My husband and I are hoping to go to Kyoto, Japan in the next year or so. Barbados and New York are next on the list too. I enjoyed exploring Budapest, Hungary, a few years ago. Although I found it a beautiful place, it was humbling to observe and be in the presence of the undesirable parts of history within that country.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
“I Almost Forgot About You” by Terry McMillan. The story line follows a successful doctor, in her field for over three decades. She is wealthy and healthy, but finding life unfulfilling in her 50s. She makes a courageous change in her life, taking the chance to quit her career and find something else that she finds joy with. A straightforward, but meaningful message.  

What are your pet peeves?
Tardiness! And clutter – I’m trying to be organized and minimalistic.

Something quirky or interesting about yourself you’d like to share?
I crave baths – not for the sake of being clean ( 🙂 ), but the need to fully relax. I enjoy a bath at the end of the day, while reading a book, drinking tea and eating chocolate. My favourite time of the day is between 1 AM and 4 AM. 

What impresses you during an interview or on a resume?
Correct spelling and editing on a resume, and I am impressed by people who quickly think on their feet when answering an unexpected question during an interview.

If you could talk to Prime Minister Trudeau regarding the refugees program, what would you ask him to consider?
To think about and see the big picture regarding resettlement – I’m referring to strategizing a decade down the road, not a few years. With that framework in mind, a more realistic two-year or three-year strategy might be sustained. Also, to treat all refugees from all countries with the same consideration regarding primary settlement needs.

If there was one thing you could get the general public to understand about refugees and, what would it be?
That they are part of our community. They are starting their journey in a new place, but they are not without valuable skills, knowledge and life experience, which can be well utilized as they become settled.

Introducing… LEO!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Leo Ramirez and I am the Community Kitchen Coordinator for the New Immigrants Program.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Almost 8 months!

What inspired you to work here/why do you do what you do?
I have worked around food security with different ethnic groups and immigrants in the past.  When I saw the open position here I applied because food security is one of my passions and working with new immigrants is really interesting because I can help them in different ways to adapt to a new country. It reminds me of myself when I came to Canada 28 years ago and I understand the process of adapting into a new culture, country, language, and weather.

How do you spend most of your work time?
I plan menus for the community kitchens, set up the cooking stations, go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients, and I organize workshops related to food security and field trips with participants.

What are the field trips like?
They are field trips related to food security, so for instance if a community kitchen group is interested in going to the food bank, we will take a trip there. The workshops focus on food security, food systems, farming, and community gardens. The other part of the program is the cooking sessions.

What advice do you have for your clients?
To learn English because English is the key. Get the education and try to get the equivalent of your degree when you get here. That will allow you, in some cases, to get into the profession that you were in before. Try to understand Canadian culture and eat Canadian food because it is important to start experiencing the food you find here – it’s what you will be eating! There will be foods you liked before you came to Canada that you may not be able to find here. In central America there are 6 different varieties of oranges, bananas, pineapples, and specific fruits you won’t find here and you miss those things. You have to try new fruits. For example, we don’t have apples or grapes in central America. We eat apples and grapes during special occasions like Christmas because they are expensive and need to be imported. We have 1-2 apples for Christmas, but here you find apples everywhere, but you can’t find mangoes all year round.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with this population?
My advice is to learn about their culture. Be updated about what’s going on in their countries of origin because that will help you to understand exactly what those people are going through and the reasons why they are coming to Canada. Having that information on hand will help you design programs that are truly related to what they are going through and how they can adapt to Canada.

Do you find language is an issue in your programs?
It is, because some of the participants are very new and don’t speak English, so we have volunteers to help us interpret.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Working with the settlement workers that are coming from different parts of the world. This gives me the opportunity to learn more about different countries. I’ve met people here from Palestine, the Philippines, Korea, and from other countries around the world. Even from Africa! This building is like the United Nations! The variety of people I work with is great – it’s nice to learn from other cultures, and they learn from Latin American countries too. It’s fun.

What are some of the challenges you face in fulfilling your role?
The main challenge is communication because I’m working with different ethnic groups who speak different languages, but I only speak Spanish and English. 

What do you like to do outside of work and how do you de-stress?
My profession before coming here has become my hobby. I used to be a radio broadcaster. Right now I have a radio show on CITR 101.9 FM – UBC’s radio station. The show is Monday from 5-6 PM and is about Latin Americans. We play Latin American music and I do interviews with local musicians. I have been doing this since 2000  – 16 years!

Do you do your show by yourself?
Yes I am the producer and the host of the Leo Ramirez Show. I love communications, sometimes I write articles for newspapers in El Salvador.

So you studied journalism?
Yes in El Salvador, and then at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. I lived in southern Ontario for a few years.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Barcelona in Spain.

Have you been there before?
No but I hope to visit that city some time soon.

Did you travel a lot while you lived in El Salvador?
To Costa Rica and Mexico.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
I read articles from different sources, mostly newspapers, but there is one book I like called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Can you share something you are proud of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
I’m proud of having a food security program because food security is important, especially for newcomers because the food system we have here is not sustainable. The way we produce food in the farms here costs a lot of money and in some places pesticides are still used. Right now greenhouses are going in a different direction. For example, nature has 4 seasons and tomatoes, for instance, grow in a particular season. Greenhouses grow tomatoes the whole year by creating an artificial environment that allows tomatoes to grow – but they are not related to nature because they are growing in artificial environments.

Food security allows us to learn and understand these things. It’s cheaper for big corporations to import vegetables from Mexico than to support local farmers. When you go to supermarket, a bunch of radishes costs 50 cents, but when they buy them from Mexico they are paying 2-3 cents per bunch. They are making a lot of profit. When you go to the farmers market you are probably paying $1 for the same radishes. The cost of production is higher here and the laws allow the food system we have in place to create profit but they don’t really care if we get sick or not. Food security is important because it allows citizens to really understand the food system.

If you go into any supermarket, 70% of the  food is processed. Processed foods use GMOs or chemicals to make their product. We are eating GMOs products without knowing what’s going on, and this is discussed in the Food Security Program. I’m very proud of this program because it helps people become more aware of things. The Community Garden part of this program helps people grow their own food.

What are your pet peeves?
When someone else is using the sink to wash dishes, then someone else comes along and needs to wash their hands and pushes you aside. Why do people do this? Why do they think they have the right to push you aside? I’m going to write a book and talk to psychologists about this.

Something quirky or interesting about yourself you’d like to share?
I think Leo Ramirez is someone who is very committed to making things happen. I see myself as a community developer because I have experience working with communities. I like making things fun so people can enjoy the activities and programs. And I love music. Music is the queen of my soul – no music no work! I’m just a Latin American guy who loves music, has a passion for radio, and is a community developer.

Introducing… ANU!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity
Anu Mitra – Volunteer Coordinator for Settlement Services.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Over 13 years. I’ve been with the LINC program as a Teaching Assistant, then as a Volunteer Coordinator. I have recently moved to the Settlement department as a Volunteer Coordinator.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
Basically I like to help people and being an immigrant myself, I understand the challenges that immigrants face. It really inspired me seeing how the Canadian government provided support in helping new immigrants settle. DIVERSEcity impressed me when I initially started as a client and soon I was offered an opportunity to be a part of their team and help too. I wanted to give back to the society and help the clients with my experience and training.

How do you spend most of your work time?
First of all it starts with checking emails as I have lots of correspondence with volunteers. A big chunk of my time goes into recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. Volunteer management is part of my job and I have to make sure that there is consistency between staff and volunteers. The recruitment process is lengthy – interviewing, CRC (criminal record check) clearance, reference checks, orientation and entry in the database. The interview usually takes about 40 minutes and each day I interview 3 to 4 volunteers, some of which may be drop ins.

Everyday I schedule at least one volunteer to cover the front desk as a DIVERSEcity Ambassador. They become the first point of contact when any client walks in, thereby taking the load off the regular admin assistants. There are times when they are swarmed with clients, while at other times there may not be much to do. That’s the time I need to keep the volunteers engaged. They need to feel they are gaining experience and that volunteering is worthwhile. So I find projects that they can do in between attending the clients.

I also maintain a database of volunteers and write reports when I’m not attending team meetings.

What advice do you have for your volunteers?
To not just volunteer for the hours! They should contribute in helping the clients’ needs by understanding and guiding them and be part of the clients’ success. Volunteers should be willing to learn, to accept guidance, and to maintain a smooth relationship with others, and not only look for personal gains.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
To see the smile on a client’s face when they have achieved something. I’m involved with both students, clients and with volunteers. When my former students feel that I have impacted their lives, and come and hug me because they are happy to have achieved their goals, that becomes my success story too.

From the volunteer side, a lot of the volunteers are happy with my guidance and direction and feel that I have helped them find a job or settle down. Among volunteers, I do have citizens as well as newcomers. For newcomers, volunteering enhances their resumes as they gain Canadian work experience and it helps build their self-esteem. I feel proud to see them grow! For citizens volunteering is mostly to give something back to the community. I have had volunteers who have been with me for 7 years, and it is very satisfying to see I can retain volunteers and see that they are happy to come back.

What are some of the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is when volunteers don’t keep up to their commitments. For many, it may be because they are looking for jobs and need to cancel at the last moment.
Sometimes retaining volunteers is a challenge. Training them and then having to retrain a different set of people for the same job is frustrating.
It’s also challenging when volunteers don’t follow instructions, and it’s frustrating redoing jobs that aren’t done properly due to lack of understanding.

Is recruiting volunteers difficult?
No, not as DIVERSEcity has now become better known in the community. In the last 13 years I have seen a lot of change. It used to be difficult finding volunteers on a regular basis. I had to do outreach to promote our program and it was very difficult to recruit. But now most people in the community know we have a volunteer component and contact me themselves. We get new volunteers practically every day.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity
Meeting multicultural clients and staff who are passionate about their jobs. The coworkers and managers are supportive and encouraging and bring out the best in me.

What are your hobbies and interests and how do you de-stress?
I’m a creative person. I do a lot of crafts, painting, poetry, and I like to dance. I get involved with a lot of cultural programs in my community. I love nature, so I do a lot of bird watching with my husband.

What country or city would you like to visit?
If I had the chance, I would like to visit the Amazon rain-forest.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
I’m reading a book called “Robbery of the Soil” by Rabindranath Tagore. It’s about the importance of replenishing what you take from society and the soil.

Can you share something you are proud of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
When I was in the LINC program with the students, it was great to see how I made an impact on their lives. I especially remember a student who was over 80 years old from Afghanistan. She was deaf and because of her disability, her speech was also not proper. She came to learn English in the pre-literacy level from a village where being in the classroom for her was almost claustrophobic. She had never really been confined to walls. When we help students read we start with phonics. She couldn’t even repeat the phonics since she couldn’t hear. I would help her every day but couldn’t be sure if anything I said registered in her brain. My goal was to help her say and write her name, but I wasn’t really sure if she was getting it. One day I was teaching a new student along with her when I said “b,” the 80 year old lady to my surprise suddenly said “buh.” Tears filled my eyes as I realized she passed the first hurdle through all her challenges. By the end of 6 months she could actually write her full name, and say it! That was a great achievement!

With volunteers, whenever volunteers approach me I try to give everyone a chance. I don’t discriminate even if they are physically or mentally challenged. I think that every person has a strength we can learn from. I’ve had many volunteers who were physically challenged. I had a volunteer who had cerebral palsy, who had trouble walking and her speech was unclear. She couldn’t hold a pen to write and so I would do the writing while she gave the instructions to the class. I brought her in to show students that any hurdle can be overcome. What’s important isn’t just knowledge from books but also seeing that if she can come and volunteer and do things – so can you. Usually when new students arrive they are very discouraged and are struggling. I want to tell them that if she can overcome her barriers, they can too!

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
My outlook has changed quite a bit. Initially I was shy and an introvert! Ever since I started working here I have become more extrovert, confident, empathetic and value what I have. I have developed patience and have learned to be less judgemental. I try to find reasons in other people’s behavioural pattern and try to be positive.

What happens during the interview process with volunteers?
It’s not a very formal interview; it’s more about learning of their abilities. I have to interview prospective volunteers and inform them the details of the various fields they can volunteer in and make them aware of our policies and procedures. I try to learn about their strengths and weaknesses and also give them advice about fields they can volunteer in. For example, if they opt for English Conversation Circles, I ask if they’ve worked with ESL students.  I need to find out if they’re willing to learn from me and willing to follow my directions or if they’re just volunteering because they feel that it’s easy! I get to know a little bit more about them and then I can place them in the right field.

If there was one thing you could get the general public to understand about refugees and immigrants, what would it be?
I would say that they should try to be empathetic, and understand the culture they come from before being judgemental. There’s a lot to learn from them. Their courage, perseverance, and strength help me find my values in life.

What is the most important quality for a volunteer working with immigrants and refugees?
Patience! When new immigrants or refugees come, they bring with them the baggage of hurdles in their life. They may react negatively but we have to understand their problems and issues in life. For some it is shown through anger, but once we are patient and listen to them, they also cool down. That’s important.

What are your pet peeves?
When people are being judgemental without knowing someone’s cultural background.

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?
Hypocrisy.

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.

Introducing… LAURA!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Laura Mannix and I am the Manager of Refugee and Specialized Programs.

Can you tell me about the programs you manage?
The Vulnerable Immigrant Populations Program – Moving Ahead is an intensive and holistic settlement program for refugee populations with complex needs. We offer one-on-one case management which assists clients with identifying and reaching their settlement goals such as accessing housing, language programs, employment, assistance with their health, and providing information and orientation about life in Canada. Attached to MAP is the VIPP Community Kitchens and nutrition program and there is also the VIPP Literacy and Essential Skills Program (read more about this in our interview with Crystal.) I also manage the Refugee Readiness Training portfolio which is a fee-for-service offered to other organizations and businesses in the community on how to work with refugee clients and how to make their services more accessible to this population. I also take care of all refugee related events such as World Refugee Day and the Bundle Up Campaign which is an annual donation drive for our clients.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
A year and a half.

Why do you do what you do?
My mom is from Egypt and her father had the foresight to leave Egypt at the time just before things had turned for the Christian population there. His family was well off living in Alexandria and he saw that things would be continue to be good for his lifetime but if they were to stay, the future would not be so bright for his kids. So, they decided to move to Australia to give their kids a brighter future.  Because of that decision my mom had the chance to be a working mom and woman, and to excel in a career to go on to earn even more than her husband. She was encouraged to do so and she was able to raise her children with those same aspirations and freedoms. If they had stayed in Egypt those wouldn’t have been afforded to her. I was born in Australia and I feel because I’ve been given the gift of education, wealth and determination – I need to give back. That is what led me to work with refugee populations. Not everyone is afforded these luxuries because of their geographic location. I want to dedicate my strength and contributions to helping those that are lucky enough to be able to start again. I’m incredibly grateful to be born in a country and in a position to thrive and to be educated, and to be a woman that can contribute to social justice matters. Why wouldn’t I use those attributes to help others get to same the point?

How do you spend most of your work time?
It’s pretty evenly balanced. I work with my team for the day-to-day programming of service delivery to vulnerable populations, and there is also collaborative time with other managers and community partners to ensure that the scope of our programs are significant and impactful. There is also a lot of communication with our funders to ensure we are identifying the needs of our clients and we are responding properly.

What advice do you have for your clients?
Come to all the workshops! Take advantage of all the programming because it [the Moving Ahead Program] is a holistic program. Be patient! Have reassurance that it takes time to understand your new community and home, and have confidence that one day, very soon, you will feel very comfortable and will be able to take the steps you need to have a thriving life here.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working population?
Volunteer! That is the best way to get direct insight into what it would be like to work with refugee populations and you can learn about what kinds of roles and services are available within this sector as well. I would recommend that you do this work if you are passionate about it; it’s not work you do because you fell into it. You need an understanding and working knowledge of the refugee experience. It’s for people who want to get a lot out of their work.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Definitely my team! I work with an extremely dedicated team of individuals, some of whom are refugees themselves. They inspire me everyday. They are the ones who do the hardest aspects of front line work. It’s through their commitment that the program is so successful. The clients are amazing, too. Through different events we do I’m able to meet them and they’re wonderful and extremely grateful and determined. Also, the dynamic environment of the work that comes across my desk – no day is the same.

What are some of the challenges?
I think one of the biggest challenges is trying to communicate with the funder to give them a better understanding of what refugee clients experience and what realistic expectations should be of the clients.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
I feel like the staff are wonderfully warm and friendly, and very accepting. I think this sector draws certain  kinds of people to work here. Like the name suggests, it is wonderfully diverse. We always have a mosaic of folks from different places, offering different traditions and values and we’re always learning new things. The people are really wonderful here!

How do you de-stress?
I teach, and do a lot of, yoga. I also work out every morning by doing things like running and cycling to work up a good sweat. It helps me disconnect. I play music too – the guitar and ukulele!

What country or city would you like to visit?
My favourite city is Istanbul, Turkey. I would love to go there again.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
I am reading Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid by Samantha Nutt. I just finished reading God in Pink by Hasan Namir.

Can you share something you are proud  of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
One of the things I’m proud of is that we have implemented a fee-for-service program. It’s essentially a refugee readiness training program where our staff who work with refugee populations, some of whom are refugees themselves and have successfully created lives in Canada, go on to train businesses and other organizations on how to work with refugee populations and how to make their services more accessible to refugee populations. This initiative has given some team members the opportunity to develop a unique skill set to go on and present in a professional capacity. It has also enabled us to generate unrestricted funding. We use this funding to provide things for our clients that our government funding may not allow.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
I’m more aware of the issues and challenges that come with refugee resettlement, particularly in Canada. In turn, it has heightened my awareness and need to want to do more work with refugee populations. It has encouraged me to do more advocacy and  volunteering. It has become a big part of my life.

What education, training, or knowledge is essential for work in this area?
There definitely needs to be an understanding of the issues refugees face. The working knowledge is essentially what you need.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resumé?
Experience is a big thing, regardless of it being personal or professional, just because it provides such a unique skill set. Not only do they need to have an understanding of the refugee experience and of the issues refugees face, but they also need to speak the language and understand the cultural norms of the clients they represent. They also need to understand Canadian systems and how to connect with clients. 

If you could talk to Justin Trudeau, what would you ask him to consider?
To treat all refugees from all places the same way.

If there was one thing you could tell the general public about refugees or immigrants/ get the public to understand about this population, what would it be?
That they don’t want to be here – they want to be in their home. They’re only here because if they were to go back home they would face persecution. The resiliency and strength of a refugee is unparalleled. When a government-assisted refugee comes to Canada, they are flown here and they have to pay for the flight – up to $10,000 for a family – and this transportation loan has to be repaid. 91% of refugees pay back this loan. It’s the highest repaid government loan of all the social services available! This highlights the resiliency of the refugee experience.

What is one of your pet peeves?
Tardiness.

What is something quirky or interesting about yourself that  you would like to share?
I’m a really big fan of Rod Stewart!