Kay Habib is originally from Pakistan and her first inspiration was her own mother, who would repurpose things for the household. From an early age Kay was highly motivated, which is essential for thriving against the daily struggles of being a woman in Pakistan.
She completed her post graduate degree in interior design and fashion. She did an MBA in Australia, where she was reunited and married with her high-school sweetheart, moving to Canada in 2006.
After a lay-off in 2008, Kay decided it was time to focus on her creative skills. She upgraded her certifications and started working at a non-profit social enterprise incubator. This is where Kay developed an intrigue for establishing business models with purpose.
In 2014, while settled in London she started her first home-staging and decorating business. This organization grew quickly and by 2018 the business was creating custom decorative pillows, utilizing fabric samples collected from furniture and drapery stores.
As the demand grew for the pillows, Kay was always on the lookout for individuals skilled with sewing. After the success of her first business, Kay wanted to build on her idea of doing business while delivering social value. She was speaking to business coaches in her network, who introduced her to the Cross-Cultural Learners Center where she met her future team for Skilled Accents.
Kay truly related to the struggles of the Middle eastern women she met. She saw an opportunity to employ this marginalized part of the community, without the need for an English language certification. Today, Skilled Accents is gaining popularity among local businesses for their recycling efforts. Reducing waste from the landfills and helping new Canadians, kick start careers.
ASSI AND LAILA ASSI
From Mosul, Iraq
Since they landed in Canada, Assi and his sister Laila have worked tirelessly to make their mark in the new community. It’s been a difficult road thus far, but they are deploying their experience here at Skilled Accents to chart out a new future that is full of possibility and promise.
It wasn’t an easy journey to get to Canada. They had to wait for about 5 years in bad conditions to hear back from the Canadian government due to the sheer number of people in need, sometimes having to travel 16-18 hours by bus to reach embassies and consulates.
Assi and Laila’s mother and siblings were already living in Canada, which was one of the reasons why they chose Canada, as well as having laws that protect their human rights and safety. The war in Iraq was causing unrest and unsafe conditions for Assi and Laila to live. They had to stay in camps and were not protected from natural disasters.
Canadians were friendly and welcoming once they arrived, only having issues with the language barrier which the siblings hope to overcome in time. Their family were a great support in finding jobs and registering for ESL. Canada’s right to education, freedom and safety brought their family back together. Through the CCLC they met Naam who was working with Kay, and they were able to secure positions at Skilled Accents with their sewing experience.
Assi hopes to own a house, perhaps go back to school to study business or even work as a barber someday. Laila wishes to improve her English and apply for nursing at Fanshawe or Western. The transferable skills that they bring into the picture are helping reduce landfill waste in their new home. The story of Assi and Laila is one of many new Canadians that are motivated to give back to the country that has provided them with a new future.
From Al-Tal, Syria
For Hadeel Sinjab, the turning point towards immigrating from Al-Tal, Syria, was when her family’s pharmacy and home, were robbed. After trying to continue higher education in Saudi Arabia to no avail, Hadeel found her way to Canada and hasn’t looked back since.
Now in Canada, Hadeel has her eyes set on a career within interior design. Her mission is to be a productive part of the Canadian society and give back to the people that accepted and welcomed her family.
Hadeel did her best to exhaust all options before coming to Canada, but the right to enroll at a higher learning institution was what pushed her. Canada felt like a safe place to live, with plenty of opportunities on the job marker for Hadeel.
Syria had turned into a dangerous place to live in. Businesses could instantly fall apart, like Hadeel’s family pharmacy. Once Hadeel was in Canada, adapting to the new environment was her main obstacle. Now, her family is working hard to become productive members of society. They want to give back and make a change.
Extended family members in Canada provided great support when Hadeel’s family arrived. Almost immediately, her dad started running a business, her mom aimed to improve her English and study at Fanshawe, and all her siblings are working or studying.
A course at College Boreal which aids newcomers to become more familiar with the Canadian workplace turned into an opportunity of working with Skilled Accents. At first it seemed impossible for Hadeel to find an interior design company to take her in for the 4-week placement, until she was introduced to Kay. Through Skilled Accents Hadeel is now able to learn valuable skills for the program she chose.
Hadeel is working towards a master’s degree in interior design and more experience in both interior and graphic design. Young women like her who refuse to give up and only strive to do better are right at home here in Canada, where organizations like Skilled Accents share their passion.
NESRIN AL AMARIN
From Daraa, Syria
Nesrin Al Amarin came to Canada in January 2016 with her husband and three children.
They had moved to Jordan from Syria before going to Canada, where many of Syrian and Palestinian refugees have similar desires and goals, though eventually they chose Canada as it seemed the best choice for a better life, especially for their children. The war in Syria left no other choice but to seek safety somewhere else, but it was hard to afford living in Jordan as immigrants and with a slow economy.
Thanks to UNHCR, Nesrin’s family reached Canada without much difficulty, even though they did not speak English. They ensured temporary accommodations when landing and helped in preparing all required documents and interviews.
It was hard to leave home, family, and everything they knew behind, but Canada and connections through the Cross-Cultural Learning Centre in London have made things easier. Once the CCLC learned their qualifications in sewing, they got Nesrin in contact with Kay at Skilled Accents, where she now works to produce beautiful pillows, masks, and décor.
Now that her family has an equal opportunity to succeed, Nesrin looks towards re-building a home and pursuing her passions. With her entrepreneurial mindset, Nesrin is cooking up plans to establish a sewing workshop for starters and then possibly a restaurant as the next course (of action). Nesrin is looking at the future with ambition; to produce a positive impact on the environment helping her fellow Canadians through her work here at Skilled Accents.
Nazifa Faizi was born in Afghanistan and has been in Canada for over 10 years now. She was born during the war, where her family’s lives and her own were always in danger. When she was forced to stay inside for five years to be safe, Nazifa was still able to spend time at a neighbour’s house to learn sewing alongside other women of the neighbourhood.
Today, the skills she picked up during one of the hardest times in her life are paying off here at Skilled Accents. She works hard to provide the best chance for her children, who won’t have to decide between security and education here in Canada. When asked about her vision for future, she said “Everything I do is for my children and my main happiness is them. I will work hard to support them and ensure that they are successful.”
Nazifa made the move from Afghanistan to Canada back in February 2008 with her husband to provide a safe environment for her children, in a safe country with the best life and best education. The actual immigration process was not difficult. Nazifa’s husband knew some people at the embassy and so, when his life was in danger, they were sent directly to Canada.
As soon as they arrived, Nazifa started giving back. She adapted quickly, became busy with her children, and began volunteering at the library and Islamic school.
Nazifa is known among peers for her sewing skills, and a family friend got her in contact with Kay to work for Skilled Accents. Working from home is perfect since she now gets to spend time with her family while having an income and making a difference. She has embodied the Skilled Accent values of women empowerment and environmental impact to the core.
From Sinjar, Iraq
Naam Haji came to Canada in March 2017 with her husband and three siblings due to the lack of safety, education, and work opportunities in her home of Sinjar, Iraq. After realizing life in Iraq was not safe, Naam tried relocating in Turkey, where the situation unfortunately did not improve due to a language barrier. So, they turned towards Canada.
Usually, the process of moving to Canada takes a long time with loads of paperwork, followed by a waiting period with many refugees simultaneously awaiting allocations. Naam was fortunate enough to have a brother-in-law who helped speed up the application, and it did take long before Naam’s family was able to come to Canada.
While the memory of displacement is still fresh from just a few years ago, Naam feels that the family’s life has taken a turn for the best. They are happy in Canada, feeling welcomed by friendly and supportive Canadians, yet missing their families and friends from overseas.
Coming into a totally different culture and starting from scratch can be overwhelming, but after starting school and making new acquaintances, settling in a new environment for them became easier. Naam was able to meet Kay through the CCLC, and is happily working for Skilled Accents, feeling supported and listened to in the workplace.
Now in Canada, Naam is setting the standards high for herself. With six years of hairdressing and five years of sewing experience, she hopes to improve her English and start her own hairdresser business, going back to college or even open an Iraqi restaurant.
From Hons, Syria
To avoid violence and starvation, Freha Altayar had left her home of Hons, Syria to Jordan alongside her family, but the cost of living there was too high and finding a job was too difficult, so they sought out different places to live. Then in September 2017, they made it to Canada for a better life and education. With the help of UNHCR, they were able to relocate without major issues.
Family members can make all the difference for immigration, as Freha’s sister and her husband who had been in Canada for 5 years already were able to support them when completing all immigration documents. Now Freha and her family are looking for opportunities in their Canadian home, feeling welcomed and encouraged by Canadians they have come across.
Canada has become much more diverse than ever in the last 10 years and organizations that help refugees reach early milestones such as their first work opportunity or first business connections play a major role in their success stories. Freha has 25 years of experience in the field of sewing and can be considered a sewing guru. She was connected to Kay from Skilled Accents through a friend at school, which led her to be employed in the business and use her decades of experience to her advantage.
Looking towards the future, Freha hopes to improve her English so she can communicate with others and start her own small sewing business.