Finding common ground
From Damascus, Syria to Oakville, Ontario, Ghada Almojarkich’s world changed in a myriad of ways when she relocated to Canada in 2017. Learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture made her life in the Middle East seem all the more distant. Despite initial challenges, the mother of three resolved to attain the skills and knowledge that would allow her to continue pursuing her passion: counseling and helping families. Finding the familiar in a society foreign to her, Almojarkich discovered a renewed sense of purpose and in doing so, is helping other immigrants adjust to life in a new country.
Almojarkich enrolled in Sheridan’s English Language Studies certificate to improve her language skills before entering into the Social Service Worker (SSW) program. The two-year, community-focused diploma prepares its students to help people work through diverse challenges and improve their quality of life. Graduates are eligible for frontline positions in places like crisis or newcomer centres, group homes, mental health settings and women’s shelters.
“Building strong familial bonds requires respect, trust and love. It’s important for parents to be available mentally and emotionally, not just to exist in the household.” – Ghada Almojarkich
It was nearly 20 years ago that Almojarkich was first inspired to enter this field of study, around the time she became a mother for the first time. She noticed a gap in resources available to new parents in her hometown in Syria. “Having a child can really change the family dynamic. There weren’t many services to support family-building,” she says. “And not many people there have open conversations about these challenges.” Although educated in economics at Damascus University, she diverted her focus to find training and hands-on experience with family and women’s groups.
These experiences led her from Syria to Ajman in the United Arab Emirates where she worked in The General Women’s Union on a family-focused program and provided workshops on relationship-building for members of various community centres. Today, between time with her husband, kids and focusing on full-time studies, Almojarkich finds time to volunteer running workshops for individuals, instructors and families. She’s involved with groups like the ELM Youth Foundation in Waterloo, Catholic Crosscultural Services, and the Alhuda Schools in Mississauga, and teaches Arabic to children on the weekend.
“Diverse experiences like Ghada’s are significant in the field of SSW as the demographic profile of Canada is ever-changing due to the larger number of immigrants entering the country each year,” says Dr. Ferzana Chaze, Professor in the Social Service Worker program in the School of Community Studies at Sheridan. “Social service agencies aren’t always equipped to address this diversity. We need social service practitioners who reflect Canada’s growing diversity, are proficient in languages other than English and French and who have diverse life and work experiences.”
Chaze teaches Almojarkich in a Migration and Settlement Studies class at Sheridan. “Ghada eagerly brings her wealth of both lived and work experience to the classroom,” she says. As a student, Almojarkich is open to answering her peers’ questions related to parenting practices in the Middle East and her experience as a new Canadian. In her counseling work, she shares her insights as a mature postsecondary student on campus with parents who have concerns about their children in the higher education system.
“We need social service practitioners who reflect Canada’s growing diversity…” – Dr. Ferzana Chaze
In conversations with newcomer parents to Canada, one of the recurring themes Almojarkich hears is the perceived fracture in cultural practices and beliefs that will occur when their children are exposed to different experiences and people. Loss of native language, dating and clothing are three topics that often come forward. The anxiety surrounding these conversations is due to inexperience in the Canadian context, says Almojarkich. “There are ways to be adaptive while respecting all differences and cultures,” she says. “With experience comes knowledge. And with knowledge, you can become more confident in addressing difficult subjects.”
While there are cultural-specific factors that influence the style of the workshops she offers to families in the Greater Toronto Area, Almojarkich appreciates the universal truths that cross cultural bounds. “Building strong familial bonds requires respect, trust and love,” she says. “It’s important for parents to be available mentally and emotionally, not just to exist in the household. Open dialogue and open discussion are so important. Patience helps too.”
“With experience comes knowledge. And with knowledge, you can become more confident in addressing difficult subjects.” – Ghada Almojarkich
In the fall of 2019, Almojarkich will start a practicum with the Centre for Skills Development in Burlington, Ontario with its Settlement Services Department. It’s an opportunity offered to her specifically based on her range of experiences locally and abroad. “I know I can make a change here. People feel relaxed talking to me. I receive ideas without any criticism or judgment and am willing to discuss anything,” she says. “Most importantly, I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve experienced fears and challenges. I’ve also figured out how to overcome them and want to share that knowledge.”
Pictured at top of page: Sheridan Social Service Worker student Ghada Almojarkich. Photo by Keiko Kataoka.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Manager, Communications and Public Relations at Sheridan.