Mentorship: The Story of Giovanna and Laila

Laila is recently settled refugee of Palestinian origin. Giovanna is Vice-Principal at St. Margaret School in Calgary, Alberta. They recently became mentor and mentee and a new friendship blossomed. We asked them both about their mentorship experience and what their first meeting was like.

GIOVANNA | MENTOR AND VICE PRINCIPAL AT ST. MARGARET SCHOOL

Q: What was your first meeting with Laila like?

A: My first meeting with Laila was via Zoom. I was really impressed by her breadth of experience, not only in the field of education but also in office administration and translation. Her ability to persevere and remain optimistic in the face of adversity clearly revealed her strength of character. I later invited her to my house for an informal, socially distanced dinner and was further impressed by how charismatic and full of energy she was. I could listen to her stories all day long.

Q: What motivated you to be a mentor, especially given the current circumstances with the pandemic?

A: I truly believe in the importance of establishing a strong community of individuals who can support us in our personal and professional journeys. We are who we are because of the many individuals who believe in us and encourage us to realize our potential. When I reflect on my own life, I acknowledge the words and actions of my family, teachers, mentors, friends who allowed me to dream big and to provide scaffolding so my dreams could be realized. As an educator and administrator, I have the great privilege to give back on a daily basis to my students and staff, the professional tools that I have received from countless people. I also firmly believe it is my responsibility to use my privilege in a way that transforms the lives of those beyond my family and friends.

Q: What are your “best practices” for mentorship during the pandemic?

1. Stay connected. Mentors need to be present, either virtually or in person so that they can act as a guide and support both personally and professionally.

2. Get to know your mentee. I believe that as human beings, we are hardwired for storytelling and the stories we tell one another about our lives, our parents’ and grandparents’ lives, the stories of our lands and our food and customs and loves bonds us together. We may not be related, but our stories of love, adventure, struggles, and pain unite us.

3. Introduce your mentee to your friends and family. Mentees need to form connections and your friends and family should also be privileged to know the wonderful and unique person that is your mentee.

4. Always meet over food and tea. Food is the universal language of friendship and through the act of sharing tea and eating food, your stories will forever be etched in your memory.

LAILA | MENTEE AND NEWLY SETTLED PALESTINIAN REFUGEE

Q: What was your first meeting with Giovanna like?

A: When I went to meet Giovanna, I had a mixed feeling of excitement and worry. When I arrived at Giovanna’s house, her husband and she were waiting for us. They were very friendly. I felt that I knew them for very long time already. I was very warmly welcomed by them and that made me relax. I literary felt at home. We sat in the front garden, where we were surrounded by green scenery of big trees and small plants. This is one of the best places I love to be in ever. Giovanna offered us Arab food she brought from a Palestinian restaurant. She is already knowledgeable about my culture, religion and country.

All these nice things made my worries just vanish. I was rather encouraged to speak and communicate more confidently. We discussed many issues related to my home country and the journey of my life until I arrived to Canada. I also talked about my ambitions, passion, and future plans. They were great listeners and could see their eyes sparkling of their admiration of my persistence. The couple encouraged me to keep believing in my dream. They were of great support to me.

Q: So far, how have you benefited from the mentorship?

A: We met three times, and each time we meet, I learned something new from Giovanna. What is even more important is that she made me feel empowered and supported. She helped me have a good resume, and provided me with job vacancies to apply to and websites to find a job. She helped me start a LinkedIn profile, and showed me how to use it to contact professional people or find a job. Moreover, she helped me develop a new hobby when she lent me a guitar as I mentioned to her that I would like to play an instrument one day. Not only this, she also lent me some books to read in my free time.

Our last meeting was with her two friends who from the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary. Dr. Suzette Mayr and Dr.Tonya Callaghan. They were very helpful and provided me with their contact information. They further promised to see what programs available at their university that would be of interest to me.

Q: Why do you think it’s important that refugees and refugee claimants to receive mentorship during the pandemic?

A: It is a good opportunity to have a mentor because this helps newcomers to build a good network, find people who will be ready to answer all their questions, provide them with rich resources, recommend other professionals who might help with job hunting, and join useful programs and courses. As a newcomer, I feel very happy that there are people who care about

The feeling Saima and Giovanna gave me as a person who has no family or friend here is priceless. I am a blessed to have them in my life here in Canada. And advise all newcomers to look for mentors, they are really very supportive.