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