INTERVIEW WITH MONI
Moni is a refugee and Jumpstart mentee who overcame immense personal and professional challenges to jumpstart her life and career 3 different times in 3 different countries; Syria, Lebanon and Canada. From a low-income refugee to a financial coach in Canada, this is her story!
Q: Moni, tell us about your initial challenges after moving to Canada?
A: I came to Canada three years ago. In the first year, I suffered the sudden loss of my beloved mother to cancer. Living far away from my family and friends, homesick, without any financial savings, assets or job to support myself, I only had my faith, morals and resiliency to start my new life in Canada along with my small government support.
In the second year, my marriage ended due to irreconcilable differences and I faced my life alone. I received prayers from my church, support from my family, my former colleagues; and few good old friends, all overseas who helped me collect myself through long distance phone calls. I was determined to recover, heal and start stronger by learning English and uncovering my potential in Calgary by working with my integration mentor, volunteering mentor, and counselors. I continued volunteering and building my network. However, an abusive friendship took advantage of me being a newcomer, vulnerable and in need of love and care resulting in so much stress that I ended up in a hospital having a suspected-cancer surgery in June 2019.
Q: How did you overcome such insurmountable personal challenges?
A: Things started changing in my third year in Canada, which started last July. God has given me a new chance after that surgery. I took it with all the energy and the positivity left in me. With more determination and persistence, I decided this time to turn my trauma into something good for me, my family and for my community, so I focused on starting my career for the third time in my life and live my life fullest!
I went back to school to finish what I started and to get my leg up in the professional world. It was overwhelming most of the time because my CLB and Academic English instructors always challenged me to do better and I challenged myself to constantly do more. Ironically, as a low-income student I qualified to benefit from the Matched Savings program where I learned how to manage my small budget and was awarded some money to continue my education. That was the door to opportunity for me. My commitment and passion were recognized by the Financial Empowerment Coach. I was selected to be trained by an expert former project lead from Carya in partnership with Momentum to co-facilitate this program. The best news is this month I started my career as a full-time Community Financial Wellness Facilitator and Coach at Carya to facilitate this program!
Q: In your incredible life journey, what reflections give your strength?
In this journey, so many inspiring, supportive, and genuine loving people helped. I always believe that God opens new doors and uses bad people to teach us lessons and good people to deliver his support. From overseas, my siblings Annie, George and Amal, my former Managers in Syria and Lebanon gave me support and here in Calgary it was Saima Jamal who is my volunteering mentor and my close friend. She is one of those good people who I met in Canada. She helped me through out my refugee journey and eventually introduced me to Jumpstart Refugee Talent and my mentor. This gave me the final push I needed by improving my job tools and strengthening my confidence to apply for the job at Carya and get hired! I feel so empowered to go to downtown to my own office and help others who are going though what I went through in my past!
I had a whole life in Syria: family, friends, house, and a profession I loved. I worked as a senior administrator for 20 years. Due to the war, I fled to Lebanon to start building all that one more time, found the same job after a year of struggling in Beirut and then waited for the UN to decide on my file to find me a new home to give me refuge. Finally, the Canadian government sponsored me to come to Canada. It has never been easy, but it not as hard as it was when I first arrived in Canada and the pain I endured. My mother always said that I am a resilient, strong and stubborn like her. She overcame much pain and challenges herself and never lost faith. The pain makes us stronger only if we choose to.
Q: You said, you wanted to turn your pain into something good for yourself and to the community. How did you achieve that?
A: I did that by volunteering in different organizations in various capacities. My first volunteering experience after I arrived in 2017 was at the bustling warehouse/ donation centre of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, formerly Syrian Refugee Support Group Calgary. After that in 2018, my family doctor and my close friend, the physician lead with the Refugee Health Clinic who has been so supportive asked me to share my experience as a newcomer patient with different students group at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary to help shaping a new generation of physicians. I gladly did that and enjoyed it. In 2019, I joined Workplace Rights and Safety researchers team to co-create a mobile application and an educational curriculum to teach the most vulnerable groups of the newcomers: women and youth, about their rights. The Modules are ready now and we are testing the application together with the IT team, which is expected to be lunched very soon this year.
In addition, as a former Sustainability Student Ambassador, I continuously raise awareness about living more healthy life and saving our planet through a sustainable livelihood style based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well. Same year I joined the planning for a Newcomer Narratives workshop which had a writing and reading program for immigrant women so they could write their stories one day. I did that with my integration mentor who has a PhD in creative writing.
A couple of months back I started volunteering for a social worker from the City of Calgary to develop and create programs that could contains some Arabic portions to help new Canadian families who due to the COVID-19 haven’t had the chance to take English class yet, to learn about Sustainability, Workplace Rights and Safety, Savings and more. Lastly, three Syrian women and I are gathering regularly to plan for starting a charity where we can share our experiences and provide information aiming to build a stronger society in Calgary and everywhere. We can help no matter where we are!
Q: Moni, do you have any call to action?
A: My call to action would be directed to everyone especially women: no matter what your age, status, where are in life, never give up! Have faith and uncover your strength, potential and seek true freedom.
Q: Any last thoughts?
A: I take this chance to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every person and organization who helped and supported me in my whole journey and continue to do so in the 3 countries I lived!