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, small town called Singar
Completed grade 5 (Assi)
Completed grade 9 (Laila)
Two years’ experience in sewing (Assi and Laila)
A year and half experience as a barber (Assi)
Located approximately 400 km (250 mi) north of Baghdad, Mosul is a city in Iraq with much historical significance. Most recently, it has been recovering from an onslaught by ISIS that started back in June 2014. Between 2003 and 2018 Canada has opened its door to more than 37,000 Iraqi refugees.
Since they landed in Canada about 10 months ago, Assi and his sister Laila have worked tirelessly to make their mark in the new community. In five years from now, Laila sees herself getting into nursing school in Fanshawe College or Western University while Assi will probably take up business school and aim for a house and a car. 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, describing some of the obstacles that they came up with, Assi commented: “Following up and providing the requested information was quite difficult as we sometimes had to travel by bus for around 16 to 18 hours to reach the embassies and consulates. We were waiting for around 5 years in bad conditions to hear back from the Canadian government”. This is usually a crucial and anxious time for families that are in a transition to take refuge in Canada due to the sheer number of people in need of assistance.
In the end it was well worth it because Assi and Laila already have their mother and siblings living here in Canada. Explaining why they all choose Canada Assi stated: “All our family members are in Canada (mother and siblings). Respect and trust laws that fully promote and protect our human rights is the main factor why we always wanted to be here”.
Not to mention the adverse circumstances, they explain the reason for leaving their homeland: “Main reason is the war back home in Iraq, which is caused by a group called ISIS. They attacked and robbed towns in the province Mosul as well as in other provinces. We had a really hard time living in a camp. Especially feeling unsafe because we weren’t exactly safe from natural disasters. During the wait, we were feeling unstable as we had to keep moving from one camp to another within different provinces for five years”.
Groups such as ISIS not only make it difficult for authorities to keep control over law order but impact the day to day lifestyle in numerous ways. So, when these two youngsters came to Canada it was a moment of respite and awareness of the fact that it is now time to build and heal. When asked how they are adapting to this new lifestyle they said:
“It was not difficult adapting to the new environment as Canadians are too friendly, especially with the newcomers. Just some issues with the language barrier, which we will overcome with, time. Our siblings were a great support for us as they supported us in completing all required documents, finding a job, registering at the ESL school, etc.”.
After spending years in the process of stabilization, they commented about being in Canada and working towards their goal: “We are very content being here in Canada as we have the right to education, a job, property, life, and freedom like other Canadians. It brought our family back together”. With the generosity of the Canadian government, many families are now here and looking to chart out a bright future for themselves.
Within a competitive job market driven by practical experience it’s a significant opportunity to find organizations that allow for entry level professionals to gain experience while earning. Assi and Laila described how they came to work with Skilled accents:
“Our sister works at the CCLC in translating. She was trying to find us a job when we met Naam, who works with Kay. We had a chat about her current job, and we asked for a meeting with her manager”. Luckily, they are able to build on previous experience while helping other Canadians in the process saying that this was a welcome opportunity: “We do not face any difficulties and obstacles; it is what we used to do in Turkey for a living and we enjoy what we do”.
Being in one of the best economies in the world, the paths ahead are filled with hope for Assi and Laila. Each of them has a plan in mind for what their future looks like.
Assi wants to keep growing, he stated: “I’d love to own a house and a car to easily get from one place to another. I’ll possibly be going back to school to study business or accounting so that hopefully someday I can start my own business. I wouldn’t mind going to work as a barber either”.
Laila likes her chances of getting a better education. She shared what she has on her mind: “I want to improve my English level with the help of the ESL course. I think this will help me find a job. Eventually I’ll be applying for nursing either at Fanshawe or Western university”.
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. The transferable skills that they bring into the picture are helping reduce landfill waste in their new home. It’s a tale of drawing strength in face of adversity, persistence among impossible odds and a positive outlook on the opportunities ahead. This is the spirit that they put into their art and environment
Originally from Al-Tal, Damascus, Syria.
Graduated from high school in 2016.
Attended the General Arts and Science program for four months to develop the essential skills needed to continue college and university studies.
Finished the ELT course at College Boreal to learn more about the Canadian workplace and develop strong networking and communication skills.
Did a 5-week job placement at Skilled Accent/Skill Decor and volunteered for three months.
Currently studying Interior Design at Fanshawe College and some graphic design courses, such as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.
More than 25,000 Syrian refugees were admitted to Canada in 2015 and 2016. This number continues to grow amidst the ongoing civil war in the region. There have been approximately 400,000 deaths in Syria during the war since 2011. The expansion of the conflict resulted in cities like Al-Tal experiencing a massive wave of crime while the civilian state was essentially disintegrated.
For Hadeel Sinjab, the turning point was when her family’s pharmacy and their home were robbed. After trying to continue higher education without avail in Saudi Arabia due to visa restrictions, Hadeel found her way to Canada and hasn’t looked back since.
Hadeel has been in Canada 2 years now since she moved here along with her family from Saudi Arabia, she’s got her eyes set on a career within interior design. The exposure with Skilled Accents can help to achieve that goal. She says that 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 and even went to Saudia to try her luck. When asked how she ended up in Canada, she mentioned: “The main reason is having the right to enroll at a higher learning institution in contrast to Saudi Arabia, where it was almost impossible due to the difficulty in the ongoing conditions. I feel that Canada is a safe place to live. There are plenty of opportunities when it comes to the job market”.
Both Syria and Saudia Arabia proved very challenging in sustaining a decent lifestyle. When asked about the reasons that caused her to move Hadeel explained: “Main reason is the war back home as Syria turned into an unsafe and dangerous place to live in. It was hard to start or run a business as it could fall apart, like what happened with my dad. Both his pharmacy and our home were robbed, and we were forced to move to other provinces and cities to be able to go to school. Feeling unsafe and unstable as my dad had to travel for a long distance everyday between cities to get back to his work, which was in bad conditions.I had a visitor visa there, which means that we were not allowed to work or even go to school. We had to look for a school that accepts us temporarily till we get a permission from the government. My dad was not able to start a job as companies and other businesses asked for permanent resident visa which he was not able to provide”.
Now that Hadeel is in Canada, she shared that adapting to the new environment was her main obstacle as it is very different to what she was used to. But it seems that this obstacle is something she will take in her stride as she commented on how the family has been doing since they moved:
“We are working hard to become productive members of this society that accepted, welcomed, and gave us the rights to education, a job, property, life, and freedom like other people. Our mission is to give back to this community and make a change. Overall, we were all passionate about coming to Canada to succeed and that is what we have on. My dad started running a business within a short time, my mom aimed to improve her English, and possible study at Fanshawe later. My brother will study Biomedical and Medical Engineering at Western next September, but in the meantime, he has a full-time job, and my younger siblings are in high school”.
The only other question is the adaption to the new lifestyle in Canada. She went over how the experience has been so far: “My aunt and her family have been in Canada for 11 years, and they were provided great support when we first came. They have aided us in completing all the required documents and forms and becoming overall familiar with the community. In addition, they have been a part of searching for courses and classes that we could attend to learn more about Canadian culture, society, and more importantly to be prepared for college and university”.
Programs offered by educational institutes are fundamental to helping refuges up-skill for their new life in the great white north. Hadeel shared how such a course turned into an opportunity of working with Skilled Accents: “I was doing a course that is called ELT at college boreal, which aided newcomers to become more familiar with the Canadian workplace. This course also offers a 4-week placement, which is necessary to complete. I have looked for Interior Design companies and provided them to my ELT mentor. It seemed impossible as she almost went through all the companies when she was passing by a fabric store, where she met an Interior Designer and she directed her to Kay. Kay is very nice and kind to me. She opened the door for me to new opportunities and to learn more about the program I have chosen. I enjoy assisting her as every day I learn valuable, beneficial, effective proficiencies and skills”.
Hadeel is just getting started, she shares her plan for the next five years, stating: “Successfully get a master’s degree in interior design. Gain more experience in the field of Interior design as well as graphic design”According to Abraham Maslow – an American psychologist. Fulfilling basic safety needs allow human beings to actualize their potential at an optimal level. However basic rights, such as having a source of income, a roof over your head and higher education can be surprisingly hard to come by during wartime. Not only that, there’s the steep cultural and functional learning curve that immigrants are faced with. Young women such as Hadeel who refuse to give up on the battle of improvement are right at home here in Canada, where organizations like Skilled Accents share their passion.
NESRIN AL AMARIN
From Daraa, Syria
Completed grade seven
Completed grade 9 (Laila)
Stays at home to raise her kids
Experienced in sewing, especially because her husband used to have a workshop back home.
Daraa, Syria was the epicenter of Arab Spring protests, which is the name given to a series of anti-government protests that shook the Arab world in early 2010. By 25 April 2011, things got so out of hand that the Syrian government laid an eleven-day siege to the city involving 6,000 troops arresting 1000 people.
Nothing has been close to the same ever since. Nesrin Al Amarin finally made it to Canada on January 11, 2016 with her husband and three children. This time; the considerable change in circumstance has been for the better. After being in Canada for 4 years Nesrin, her husband and three children can look forward to a new legacy in Canada. 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).
When asked why she chose Canada she stated: “It seemed like the best choice for a better life and better education, especially for our children. We were in Jordan before this and there where a lot of of Syrian and Palestinian refugees were being helped at full capacity”.
When parents move with their children to Canada, the adaption goes a little differently than young people. Adults have strong ties back home and a structure of network and support in their homeland. Explaining why she left her home of many years Nesrin said: “Main reason was the war in Syria. In general, it was hard to afford living in Jordan not just because we are immigrants but also because the economy slowed down”.
After leaving a war-torn region, there is always the question of re-building and establishing a new foundation. Commenting on the process of reaching in Canada she said: “We did not face any difficulties even though we do not speak English. This was because of the UNHCR organization, which used to support Syrian immigrants in Jordan. They had informed us about immigrating to Canada. They fully supported us in the whole process from preparing all required documents and to the interviews. They also ensured that we had temporary accommodations when we landed”.
“In addition to this they assisted in applying for all the essential documents; such as public health insurance and permanent residence to ensure that we have access to government programs and benefits. They also made sure that we reached out to the Cross-Cultural Learner Centre that supports newcomers in London. It was just sad to leave home and our family, relatives, and friends”
Support systems such as UNHCR are saving lives. During the process of taking up refugee in another nations, there are many factors that can cause uncertainty. However, it seems that it was worth the persistence as Nesrin shares how the family has been during since immigration: “We are so happy about our decision of coming to Canada, especially that our children will have better opportunities and chances. Even though, we sometimes have that feeling of homesickness when thinking about our life back home in Syria”.
Luckily, Canada has a large population of her fellow country men and women to make Nesrin feel more at home. English language is often a barrier, especially when you don’t know anyone; but she was able to network with other refugee families who speak their first language.
When transferring previous skills into a new industry it always helps to have guidance. Nesrin commented on how she came to work for Skilled Accents. “Through the CCLC as they have listened to our story and found out our qualifications in sewing. They searched up for some opportunities to help us adjust to the new life in Canada. We are extremely happy being part of Skilled Accent and working with Kay in producing the accent pillows and masks”
Now that her family has an equal opportunity to succeed. Nesrin looks towards re-building a home and pursuing her passions. Sharing her plan for the next five years, she said: “Reaching a better level of English; therefore, being able to apply for the Canadian citizenship. Buying a house. Reopening a sewing workshop. Opening a restaurant as I am passionate about cooking”
Uprooting a life and settling into another environment completely is always emotional and challenging for any family. When it happens due to war and violence, it is even more nerve-wrecking. Some refugees spend years in the refugee camps where dangers still exist in the form of crime. This is why Nesrin is such a superstar, taking unimaginable hardship in stride and coming back stronger. Not only that, she’s 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.
Six years of public-school teaching experience
Skilled in sewing, supports her children and husband working from home.
When my best friend was kicked out of school for a couple of days it was because he thought that no one would find out how he had sabotaged the lunch bell in the hopes of extending the break. I can only imagine the conversation he had with his parents later, that day. But I was way too scared of his dad to call and find out. But what would you and the parents do when a school decides to permanently evacuate its premises?
The history of Afghanistan stretches back to around 500 BCE, with traces of this civilization spanning back since before 2000 BCE. Most of us know this country as the place where Osama Bin Laden operated and the resultant invasion by the United States and NATO in October 2001. However, due to the strategic importance of this region; many great civilizations have attempted to assume control over the area including Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. Due to this, tribulations of wartime have been experienced by generations upon generations of Afghans living there.
Nazifa Faizi who was born in Afghanistan, has been in Canada for 12 years now. Describing her time in Afghanistan she says: “I was born during the war and lived there for so long. our lives were always in danger. I was in grade eight when my teacher entered our classroom asking everyone to take their bags and leave the school, and not to come back again. I did not leave my house for five years, but I spent my time going to an old lady’s house with other women to learn sewing in our neighborhood.”
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 the coming 5 years, 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.”
It’s only natural to protect our loved ones from situations that have hurt us in the past. Nazifa made the move from Afghanistan back in February 2008 with her husband, as she had some friends in Canada. She describes this choice: “It was the best option for our children as we wanted them to live in a safe country, get the best life and education”.
When her husband came under direct threat, they had to do something for the safety of their family. Luckily, once they made this brave decision, the actual immigration to Canada seemed to fall in place. Commenting on the process she said: “It was not difficult, and it was fast as my husband knows some people at the embassy and when his life was in danger, they sent us directly to Canada”
Being in one of the friendliest places on earth was a welcome change for Nazifa, but she started giving back as soon as she could when she settled here. She described how she’s been able to adapt to life here: “I adapted very fast and I got used to it as I made new friends, became busy with my children, started volunteering at the library and the Islamic school”.
Nazifa is known among family and friends for her skills at sewing, she describes how she began work with Skilled Accents: “My family friend gave my phone number to Kay as she knows my skills with sewing”. She likes working out of her home as she gets the change to spend time with her family while making a difference.
Educational institutes that support women, have been targeted repeatedly by extremist groups in Afghanistan. Literacy rate among women in Afghanistan is 43.02% vs. 55.48% for men. For Nazifa, this has been a life-long fight that she refused to lose. She encouraged learning for her community back home and here in Canada. She has embodied the Skilled Accent values of women empowerment and environmental impact to the core.
From Sinjar, Iraq
Six years hairdresser experience
Five years sewing experience
Skilled in sewing and lives here with her husband and three siblings
Seeking refuge from your own home country is a type of plight that can only be understood by those who have faced it. All of us that have moved from a different country, feel a certain level of homesickness. However, after escaping an imminent threat to one’s future and life; the separation from roots can be quite painful. Naam Haji Came to Canada in March 2017 with her husband and three siblings due to the lack of safety, educational and work opportunities.
Iraqi children have one of the shortest school years, it's only 151 days. While there are more than 4000 intermediate schools in Iraq, 30% do not have their own building. On top of this only 12.3% women at a working age were employed or looking for work as of 2018.
In Canada, Naam is setting the standards high for herself. She explains what she sees herself doing in the next five years: “Improving my English level to be able to better communicate with others. Starting my own business as a hairdresser or even opening a restaurant with Iraq recipes.Going back to college if I have the chance to study business”.
We asked Naam of the difficulties that forced her to move to Canada and she said: “Life was not safe back home in Iraq” She actually tried her luck in Turkey, but the situation didn’t improve. She further explains why she chose Canada “It was the best option for us as we were not able to work, study, or support our relatives and loved ones in Turkey due to the language barrier.”
Usually, when a family makes a decision to move to Canada, the process that follows takes time as there is a lot of paperwork to be completed. This is followed by a waiting period as there is a large number of refugees awaiting allocations. Naam was fortunate enough to have a family member who helped speed up the application: “It was not difficult as my brother-in-law supported us in the whole process of filling in all the required documents. It also did not take us a long time to come over to Canada.”
While the memory of displacement is still fresh from three years ago, Naam feels that the family’s life has taken a turn for the best. She explains how they are doing after the immigration: “We are happy being here in Canada as Canadians are supportive and friendly with newcomers. We just feel sad sometimes that we are away from our families and friends.”
After seeing language as a major barrier back in Turkey, it wasn’t easy addressing a similar challenge again. However, settling in Canada was easier; as Naam explains: “It was difficult as life in Canada is different than we are used to back home in Iraq. They have a different culture and speak a different language. However, as we started attending school and making friends, we got used to the new environment.” Coming into a totally different culture and starting from scratch can be overwhelming. A little support and guidance can go a long way.
Naam describes how she came to work with Skilled accents: “A lady at the CCLC helped me arrange a meeting with Kay to test our sewing skills. I am happy working with Kay. She has always been such a support for me, and she tries as much as possible to speak slowly so we can understand her”.
Canada is expected to be the second fastest growing economy in 2019 and 2020 within the G7. The opportunities are numerous. However, with the competitive job market guidance is key for the success of newcomers in the job market. Organizations that specialize in engaging talented immigrants and refugees play a big role in keeping the economic engines roaring.
From Hons, Syria
25 years of experience in Sewing
Plans to be a small business owner in her field
If you happened to catch the international news in the middle east between 2011 and 2015, chances are that you’ve seen graphic images broadcasted from the streets of Homs. This city had a population of 1.5 million before the fighting started and was often dubbed the center of the rebellion in Syria.
Among risks of starvation for the residents, the rebel forces finally let up, as the body count reached 700. By this time Skilled Accents team member Freha Altatay had already made an exit to the much more expensive city, Jordan; and was trying to make ends meet. She describes the problem she was then faced with: “We were not able to afford living in Jordan because the cost of living was too high, it was hard to rent, and find a job”
Freha finally made it to Canada in September 2017 along with her family. After all that had happened, the reason to move to Canada had been clear to them, as she describes: “It was the best choice to get a better life and education”. This turned out to be a great choice for the family and with the help of UNHCR, they were relocated without major issues.
The helping hand was a respite from the growing stresses around her as she commented on the process: “We did not face any difficulties as the UNHCR organization informed us of all the details needed about immigrating to Canada. They supported us in the whole process, including preparing all documents and even the interviews.”
While she had the whole of Canada to discover, Freha found familiar faces here to help her with adaption to the new lifestyle as she describes: “My sister and her husband have been in Canada for around 5 years now. They supported us to complete and apply for all required documents as their English language is good. It would have been difficult without their support”. Family members can make all the difference when immigrants arrive in a foreign land, as it takes a while to settle into a new environment and norms.
Now, things are settling down for Freha and she is gearing up to avail the opportunities in her new country Canada; which took in more refugees than anywhere else in 2018. When asked how the family has been getting along, she said: “We like being here in Canada as we have a lot of opportunities, and because Canadians are friendly and patient, especially with the newcomers”
Considering the 25 years of experience that Freha has in the field of sewing. She can be considered a guru in this skill, which can be considered an art at her level of expertise. She describes how she came to work with Skilled Accents and how she likes it here: “I know someone at school who asked me if I have any experience with sewing. She gave my cell phone number to Kay who contacted me later on. I like working with Kay, who is very kind to me.”
New beginnings, at any stage of life can change the perspective we have on possibilities for the future. When we asked her what she sees herself doing in the next five years, Freha said: “Improving my English level; therefore, being able to communicate with others around me and starting a small business of my own related to sewing”.
Canadians have been becoming more diverse than ever in the last 10 years. Cultures and communities are interacting to add to the vibrance and growth of this nation. Most of us that have come from faraway places probably don’t even remember the long hours in flight because when you land; it’s all worth it. However, most of them could probably describe the first work opportunity they had and how it impacted their life in much detail. Organizations that help refugees reach this milestone early on, play a major role in their success stories.
Canada will welcome 195,800 immigrants in 2020, with the number expected to rise to 202,300 in 2021. First generation Canadians who have moved to this country at a very young age have seen the effort that goes into resetting a career. Sarah Asif has been in Canada for the last 22 years. She describes the move: “I immigrated to Canada at a very young age with my family, mom, dad and sisters., I was raised in Mississauga Ontario.”
Sarah was able to take the sponsorship route to Canada back in the day, as she describes: “We got sponsored by my aunt that lives in Canada.” Even though she is a Saug-an for many years, she is still familiar with the reasons why this country is a place of relief for her family. Speaking to us about the reasons her family made the move she said: “My parents wanted to escape the war and to be able to give us a better and more promising future.”
A key issue for new immigrants that are skilled in technical or managerial jobs is that they need to prove their worth all over again in Canada. The lack of “Canadian experience” which employers demand, often upfront; makes it very difficult to work in their field of study. Sarah remembers how her family navigated through these obstacles early on: “The main obstacles my parents faced were overall a culture shock, they had to adjust to a completely different environment despite being adaptive, it was difficult for them to not be in their field of work and start from the bottom.” Today, they call this nation their home and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
As Sarah moved here early, she didn’t have to face a lot of struggle in terms of assimilating with the Canadian culture. She is a Canadian from an early part of her learning journey and is an example of young Canadians who want to make a difference in the home decor field. She comments on how she came to work for Skilled Accents: “I heard about skilled accents through word of mouth and family. I’m passionate about home decor and working here has enabled me to explore that side of my passion. I’ve been able to take on a new role and it has taught me a lot about management skills.”
The Linen, Drapery and other Textile Furnishing Merchant Wholesalers report by the Canadian Industry Statistics shows an average revenue of $522, 000 for SMEs in this industry within 2018. Decorative pillows and other textile products are a part of this statistic where 68.9% of businesses are profitable. Suffice to say that this is a growing industry where young entrepreneurs can really make their mark. Identifying this opportunity, when asked what Sarah plans to improve in the next 5 years she commented: “I’m hoping to grow with skilled accents and start my own business as well.”