A Chance To Re-Invent Yourself

Did you know? Between October 21- 27, 2017, Surrey will be the venue for the Newcomer Employment Week (Surrey NEW).  This series of 35 events is organized by the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (Surrey LIP), the City of Surrey, the Surrey Board of Trade, the Immigrant Employment Council of BC, and a host of local community groups to build better bridges between newcomer job seekers and employers. As part of Surrey NEW we are showcasing the many achievements of Surrey as a diverse and caring community.

 Barriers these immigrant women faced were immense, but so too is their drive

Juggling family and school in an unfamiliar city, while learning about a new culture and dealing with financial hardships – these are the issues that many immigrant women face upon arrival.

Shatha Muhsen is no exception. But when she arrived in Surrey from Baghdad, Iraq, she had to overcome a few other challenges as well.

“My husband hurt his back and could not work for a while,” Muhsen recalls.  “We had three kids I had to take care of and work part-time.”

Her resilience, determination and drive helped her make a meaningful transition.

In Iraq, Muhsen had a career in the construction industry, and she uses her talents to pursue an alternative career in Canada. After enrolling in English language classes and attending a local college, she graduated with a diploma in accounting.

She now works as an administrative assistant at the Muslim Food Bank and Community Services (MFBCS) in Surrey. This role gives her the opportunity to support other newcomers by connecting them with employment, language and skills training opportunities, along with food hampers and healthcare supports.

“I love my work,” she says. “I love helping new immigrants go from zero to finding a career and success.”

Many of the people Muhsen helps every day are women, and for some of them the connection to the MFBCS has been life-changing.

This was the case for Maisa Azar, 41. She immigrated to Canada from Syria and had never worked outside of her home until she started volunteering for MFBCS. A year later, she was offered a paid job at MFBCS, and she accepted it in a heartbeat. Azar now juggles between her job and taking care of her five kids but has never felt more fulfilled.

“This job does not feel like a job because you know you are helping people,” Azar says.

According to Azim Dahya, who co-founded the MFBCS, employees like Azim and Muhsen bring value to organizations because of their self-determination and drive.

“Having employees from diverse backgrounds enables our organization to expand its network,” he says. All it takes is the right approach: “It’s about giving new immigrants the opportunity and the right training.”

Currently, MFBCS has seven women employees, and works with 200 active women volunteers.

These successes underscore the value of a talent pool that often goes untapped. These competent, organized and motivated individuals are sometimes overlooked by employers, especially when the only job they might have had is unpaid work inside their home. This is especially true for immigrant women.

“Organizations like the Muslim Food Bank are shifting this paradigm,” says Patrick MacKenzie, CEO of the Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IEC-BC). “They are offering immigrant women an opportunity to showcase their talents and contribute to society in new ways.”

“Without immigration, over a quarter million BC jobs will go unfilled by 2025,” he adds. “The smart employers are the ones who are bringing these talented people into the workforce.”

Both Muhsen and Azar could not agree more.