I’ve been in Canada for almost a decade and my first years were really harsh years. I had to start everything from scratch; I was also dealing with language, cultural and financial barriers. I lacked a support system, and I had zero network. These struggles drove me to do the work I am doing today for the immigrant community.
I badly wanted to be involved in any work that supports the immigrant community, so two or three months after coming to Canada, I started volunteering with organizations that were doing work to support the settlement and integration process. But I wasn’t really happy with the way newcomers were treated as clients. It never felt like I was being 100 per cent seen, valued and validated in terms of my complex experience as an immigrant, as a woman of colour and as someone who has faced a lot of racism and discrimination. I thought that if one day I’m able to create something, it has to be community-centred.
I founded The Newcomer Students’ Association when I came to Ryerson as a student at The Chang School of Continuing Education in 2016. I was hoping that I would really fit in; that I would see different support systems, services and programming that would be offered for immigrant students. But it was lacking. I had difficulty in the classroom: I was the only one to speak English as a second language and with an accent, and I wasn’t confident in my ability to participate. So I started the association as a small steering group on campus.
In 2020 we led a transformational expansion of the group and moved from being a campus-based student group into a national grassroots organization that supports immigrant and refugee students in postsecondary institutions. This came after so many students from across different Canadian campuses reached out to us to seek support. It was evident to us that universities are lacking a support system for these students, and in fact are not responding to the unique needs of this segment. We now have more than 5,000 members from different Ontario campuses.
Newcomer Women’s Services (Toronto) is another agency that I accessed when I came to Canada. I was a client and needed their support and counselling. So it’s coming full circle for me to come back to managing programs and initiatives that actually work to support and build leadership capacity for immigrant women. When a woman shares with me that she was able to advocate for her needs, and for her own community, this is what fulfils me and makes me happy about the work that I’m doing.
Everything that I do for the immigrant community, of which I’m a part, is really driven and informed by my own lived experiences. To be recognized as a 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence gives me the motivation to keep fighting for my community, and it reminds me to never give up. This is about the communities that I work with and serve, and any recognition I get is a recognition for the whole community.
—Interview by Tayo Bero