Meet the 2020-2021 Peer Champions for the Immigrant and Refugee Communities - Neighbours Friends and Families Campaign.
Too often, domestic violence is seen as private "family business" - something that happens behind closed doors. But domestic violence is not a private issue - it's a community issue. It takes a community to make sure that women and children can live safe and free from abuse.
Often, the people who are closest to a woman living with abuse can help her the most. Al O'Marra, the former Chief Counsel of the Coroner's Office of Ontario, has said that "in almost every case of domestic homicide, we found that the people around the victim knew what was going on - but didn't know what to do about it."
That is one of the reasons why it is so important for community members to know the signs of domestic violence and how to offer support. If the neighbours, friends or family members of a woman who is being abused know how to support her, her situation can change.
So how do we create communities with the knowledge and skills to support survivors of domestic violence?
The Immigrant and Refugee Communities - Neighbours Friends and Families Campaign aims to do just that. By running informative community education events, the Campaign will spread useful knowledge on responding to domestic violence in immigrant and refugee communities across Ontario.
The Campaign focuses on immigrant and refugee communities because women from our communities face more barriers when we look for support for domestic violence - we face language barriers and financial barriers. Some of us also face racism when we look for support - our whole culture or community is blamed for the violence, instead of the abuser.
But immigrant and refugee women are powerful - we can recover, heal, and go on to thrive after abuse. This is especially possible if we have support from our own ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic communities. That is why it is so important to have a Campaign that is run by and for our own communities.
The main strategy of the Campaign is to have passionate community members - who we call Peer Champions - take on this issue. These Peer Champions will hold events in their communities to build knowledge, action and leadership on domestic violence.
Meet our 18 Peer Champions
We've selected an amazing group of Peer Champions for the 2020/2021. They will be hosting events across Ontario this year! Let's meet them now:
Elena is an immigrant and a settlement worker at CultureLink, where she serves the Roma community and other newcomers in the GTA, helping them successfully settle in Canada. This involves providing education, referrals, immigration support, and much more. She has a Master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies thanks to which she is able to support clients in navigating difficult conversations and practice nonviolent communication. Elena is also a huge immigration law enthusiast, and she is working towards becoming a registered immigration consultant. She has done a lot of work with survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, and she joined the Peer Champion program in order to expand her toolbox. Elena believes that education creates the ripple effect, and by offering the training to individuals we have the potential of strengthening entire communities.
Maria Niny Martinez
Maria is a Settlement Coordinator for Thunder Bay Multicultural Association. She is compassionate with a great interest in social matters and is very patient in her approach to people. She has experience with sensitive situations due to many years of working in Psychology in Colombia and for the past 15 years working with newcomers and refugees. Maria has been a volunteer for 20 years working with people in diverse environments including domestic violence. She is excited to be a part of the Peer Champion program and to learn and work towards eradicating domestic violence from our communities. Maria believes that every day is an opportunity to help someone in need.
Manar is a settlement counsellor at Somali Centre for Family Services. She helps guide newcomers; refugees and immigrants and helps them resettle in Canada. She is glad to be a part of newcomers' lives when they first arrive in Canada. During her work as a counsellor she has met with many people from different cultures and this has enriched her personality and made her more open and more knowledgeable about different kinds of cultures. Manar is interested in Immigrant Women's issues because she has also faced some of the same challenges that they face. Manar is interested in Immigrant Women's issues because she sees and wants to help with some of the challenges that they face
Amenah was born in Baghdad, Iraq and had just gotten her Masters degree in pharmacy before settling in Canada in 2012. She started her career in settlement services with IWSO in 2017 as a volunteer Arabic speaking computer skills instructor to help Syrian refugee women adapt better with their new lifestyle in Canada. Later, she became the English Conversation circle Facilitator. In June 2019, Amenah was given a great opportunity to become the Project Coordinator for the Elder Abuse Awareness Project which added so much to her knowledge and paved the way towards her becoming a settlement councillor. Since October 2019, Amenah has been working as a part time Settlement Councillor and as a English Conversation Circle Facilitator at IWSO. She is also a loving mother of 2 and loves painting and gardening.
Sureya is a passionate youth advocate in her community. She is currently a fourth-year student at York University studying Political Science and Public Administration and Law. She is committed to community building and advocating for youth participation, mental health, and the rights of immigrants and refugees. She has been involved with initiatives such as Apathy is Boring to co-create a community project that tackles the issue of gender inequality as an ambassador for the RISE program. Sureya is also a member of the Etobicoke North Youth Council, where she has raised issues in her constituency through community engagements. Sureya is excited to be a part of this year’s Peer Champions team and looks forward to creating awareness of domestic violence against immigrant and refugee women within her community. Social Media – Instagram @reyyaa5 twitter: @su_reya
Rihanat El Alawa
Migrated to Canada 10 years ago. She is very passionate about building relationships and helping people who are vulnerable. She currently lives in Cambridge Ontario with her family and is involved in the Muslim community. Rihanat holds a Bachelor’s degree, and is currently pursuing an Associate degree in Education at the International Open University. Rihanat is a member of the Langs Board and is part of the Community Services Committee. She was a Peer Leader at the Healthy Eating, Healthy Living in Canada program for new Canadians at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Center (KDCHC). She is also a Peer Champion with the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). Rihanat enjoys spending time with her family and reaching out to her friends.
Gule is a Master’s of Social Work student at the University of Toronto (Uoft). She recently graduated from UofT with a Bachelor’s of Science specializing in mental health studies. As a diaspora herself, Gule Rana is deeply involved with the newcomer and immigrant population in her community. She is a grassroots organizer of the Wellness Café project that focuses on raising awareness on mental health and facilitating taboo conversations on issues such as identity conflict, trauma and more. Gule Rana is an aspiring psychotherapist hoping to work with marginalized communities in the areas of mental health and domestic violence.
Yusuf currently works as the Mentorship Coordinator / Communications for the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre. In this capacity since 2013, he has had the opportunity to meet, serve, and work with individuals and families, young and old, from all over the world. Through his work and travels to 40+ countries around the world, Yusuf has developed a global mindset and can therefore look at an issue from many diverse angles. Domestic violence is real and is impacting immigrant and refugee communities just as it affects long-standing Canadian families. To address the underlying issues, cultural sensitivity / humility is ever more crucial and relevant. With his community and professional involvement in Niagara, he looks forward to learning from OCASI and fellow Peer Champions as they move along in the Peer Champion Program.
Pilar is an immigrant, originally from El Salvador who has spent many years as a frontline worker, delivering programming for people of various marginalized communities. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Post-graduate diploma in Addictions and Mental Health. Pilar has worked both internationally and locally with communities facing homelessness, mental health challenges, poverty, and other forms of marginalization. She strives to create programming and supports that are more accessible and trauma-informed. Currently, she works at Sistering and at other local agencies supporting women and trans folks in immediate crisis. As part of the Latinx community, Pilar has observed that many folks who immigrate to Canada are experiencing Domestic Violence, racism, and other types of marginalization. Pilar is excited to join the Peer Champion program and create safe spaces where awareness of Domestic violence can be shared; and survivors can build community, resilience, and find support.
Rasha has been teaching college students for the past 15 years. She has a Master’s in Education as well as Teaching English as a Second Language to Adults. Rasha is currently teaching international students and working with newcomers at the Kingston Community Health Centre. She facilitates and runs programs that help newcomers settle in their new environments. Rasha’s pride lies in the woman’s group that she runs, “New Sisters in Canada”. Rasha is passionate about empowering newcomer women in order for them to thrive with their families in Canada. She believes the Peer Champion program is a perfect fit that will equip her with the tools that she needs to pass along to immigrant and refugee women and enable them to become champions in their own communities.
Jaspreet has a background in social services. She received her Social Service Worker diploma with High Honours from Sheridan College. She came as an international student from India, and has always been passionate about supporting and empowering community members. Currently, Jaspreet is volunteering as the Manager, Programs and Events with Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR), where she works to empower newcomers and their allies to build fellowship, capacity, and community. She held multiple roles at her college, including President of Sheridan International Students’ Association, Students Admission Representative, Peer Mentor, Student Leadership and Engagement and International Students’ Ambassador, where she was able to offer various services and support to students. Jaspreet has been recognized with the Newcomer Resilience Award and contributed as a Research Assistant to a project called ‘Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Case Studies’. She is skilled in understanding one’s social location with an Anti-Oppressive lens. Jaspreet is approachable and always ready to aid others. Jaspreet works from an anti-oppressive, intersectional, anti-racist, LGBTQ- and feminist-positive framework, and believes in diversity, equity and inclusion and works toward making a difference in others’ lives by providing them with appropriate support and services. Jaspreet has joined the Peer Champion program because she wants to make an impact by advocating for the elimination of domestic violence. She understands the challenges of being in a new country and how all those challenges worsen the situations of women in abusive relationships. By becoming a Peer Champion, Jaspreet is aiming to promote awareness among the immigrant communities to end gender-based violence and empower survivors of GBV.
Niya is passionate about storytelling and advocacy. She started her passion project called Habasooda earlier this year, a project committed to sharing the richness of the Muslim experience through a variety of storytelling avenues.
Rifaa is a survivor and advocate, passionate about the empowerment of immigrant, refugee, and Muslim women/girls. Her supportive efforts are focused on assisting marginalized women facing domestic violence, and addressing both the gaps in services for survivors and the barriers to accessing them. Rifaa also offers education aimed at changing community attitudes and responses to gender-based violence. She does this in the hope of creating responsive, compassionate communities where those who are experiencing abuse can feel safe to speak out -- where survivors are supported, not silenced. Rifaa is the co-chair of the Kingston Anti-Violence Advisory Council (KAVAC). She volunteers with the Government Assisted Refugee settlement program locally, as well as the Sexual Assault Crisis Line. Rifaa is currently studying Indigenous Social Work at Laurentian University.
Cathy Zhao has dedicated herself to serve the local communities and residents since 2007. In the past 13 years, she has worked in lots of roles as the community-based project coordinator, school settlement worker, community researcher, admin assistant, community animator, life skills coach, peer leader for self management and active living programs with decade community service organizations, universities, schools, etc. In addition to being the women ambassador to prevent domestic violence in the Chinese community from 2007-2008, she had coordinated the train-the trainer projects with the Child Abuse Prevention Amabssadors project from 2011 to 2013 and Chinese Seniors Abuse Prevention research project from 2014-2016. By working on those public education projects, Cathy Zhao has trained and supervised hundreds of people from age 13 to 85 to conduct various community events and activities successfully. She is very experienced in project planning and management, volunteer recruiting and supervising, group facilitation, individual mentorship and engagement. She is also an expert for leading group meditation and exercise.
Puneet Dhillon received her Doctorate in the field of Journalism and Mass Communication, the key leitmotif of her PhD research was how men’s perception of women’s roles change or ossify and consequently influence men’s treatment of women. Dhillon has served as Head of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Khalsa College, India and has successfully completed various Research Projects pertaining to active feminism. Presently, she works as Communications and Research at Punjabi Community Health Services, PCHS, GTA. She is responsible for sharing knowledge generated through case studies and analytical papers and maintaining external key relations. She has also been recently awarded as Peer Champion for NFF (Neighbours, Friends and Family) campaign by OCASI where she gathered, shared and disseminated, both awareness and knowledge about resources and techniques of empowerment available for the vulnerable members of the community.
Samia is an advocate for refugee and immigrant communities in Toronto and holds Bachelor and Graduate degrees in International Relations. Her passion for women’s rights and desire to alleviate violence against women in all it’s forms has beckoned her to agitate for social reforms and to tackle systematic barriers that put the most vulnerable members of our society at risk. She hopes to use this opportunity to do outreach within her various immigrant communities and to uplift survivors of gender based violence.
2020-2021 will be Sinthu’s second year as a Peer Champion in the Immigrant and Refugee Communities – Neighbours Friends and Families Campaign campaign. She is participating in this campaign because she is passionate about addressing racism, poverty, gender-based violence, and other forms of oppression in ways that are empowering of newcomer communities. She was born to refugee parents and she is a member of the Tamil community. As a second-generation immigrant, she feels a strong connection with others from newcomer communities, especially those who have also experienced war.
I always saw my soul as a wounded healer who is willing to transcend his trauma to a space for light, hope and peace so that others can also find their space of healing journey. I believe being part of peer Champion program is a positive step toward directio of peace for all.
(PFAC) is conflict-transformation organization, led by leadership of African Canadians. PFAC utilizes the creative energy of individuals, their skills and commitment to promote community peace, safety and security. The vision is to build united and prosperous communities, living peacefully side by side. The mission is to empower individuals, families and communities, to confront physical, cultural and strucural violence, and promote positive peace. Through peace by peaceful means PFAC supports current wave of responses to systemic racism and the need to develop alternative modes of social support and conflict transformation for the public good.