From newcomer to settlement counsellor: Edmontonian bridges gap between cultures

Sadiya Mohammed on August 29, 2019. Courtesy: Morgan Black

As a new Canadian once herself, an Edmonton settlement counsellor strives to make the transition to a new home easier on fledgling Edmontonians.

Sadiya Mohammed clearly remembers some of the most difficult challenges that she faced when she moved to a new country.

“First, the language!” Mohammed said. “We studied English but here the accent [in Canada] is different. It’s difficult.
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“For example, in my culture, the way to show someone you respect them is that you don’t look at them directly. But here in Canada, when you show someone you respect them, you must show eye contact.”

Mohammed came to Canada five years ago from Eritrea, where she was working as a television journalist.

“When I was working as a journalist, I went to jail for two years and eight months. It was a political issue,” Mohammed said.

“The government… they like journalists to tell propaganda. To lie to the people and say: ‘Yeah, we are good,’ but in reality it’s not like that.”

She pushed for the truth to be heard, but the government pushed back.

“I was telling people the reality. People are starving. [The government] sends you to military services for more than 12 years, not just one year and six months. The government didn’t like that, so they threw me in jail.”
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Mohammed said she remained strong as best as she could, despite the extreme conditions.

“I didn’t have any other choice. I was in jail for doing nothing, for telling the truth.

“That’s a problem. I preferred to stay strong for my message. I have to be strong for myself and the people,” she said. “I wasn’t a human. Jail in Eritrea is a nightmare. It’s terrible. You are just a point in the line [of people]. You are nothing.”

In May 2011, she fled to Jordan. She remained there for two years and then traveled to Edmonton in 2013 with her two daughters, 10-year-old Ayah Kaed and nine-year-old Ratag Kaed.

Ten-year-old Ayah Kaed (R) and nine-year-old Ratag Kaed (L). Courtesy: Morgan Black

“When you’re told you’re going to Canada, you’re full of fear. Yes, I’m going to Canada, but who will I meet with? Where will I go in the airport with my two children? I don’t have money. I don’t have a job.”

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Catholic Social Services (CSS) was the first organization she met at the airport.

“I met one settlement counsellor and he said: ‘Welcome home.’ It was hard for me. Everything is new for me. But they helped me.

“They helped me get a family doctor, helped with housing, gave us food for two weeks.”

Her experience with CSS sparked a desire to give back.

“I sat with myself and said: ‘Sadiya, you speak five languages and have no problem talking to people. Why don’t you pay it forward?'”

Watch below (Oct. 5, 2018): A young refugee in Edmonton and his former teacher are still processing some incredible news -they’ve been nominated for one of Canada’s highest literary distinctions. Julia Wong has their story.

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She began volunteering for 10 months with the organization, taking clients and showing them Edmonton and helping immigrant and refugee families get settled. Later, they offered her a role as a home support worker for three years. Then she was chosen as a settlement counsellor.

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“That was a big thing — [being able to] speak directly with my client. They come to me and I help them [like I was helped]. I feel proud. They call and ask if I can help and I say: ‘Yes!'”

“I feel like I am a bridge between Canadian culture and other cultures,” Mohammed said.

“They say: ‘I don’t know how to take a bus.’ I say: ‘Listen, I was like you. There is a day I got lost and went to the north side instead of Mill Woods. That’s okay.'”

LISTEN BELOW: Ryan Jespersen chats with Sadiya Mohammed about her transition from newcomer to settlement counsellor

Mohammed recalled her own experiences on what she knew about Canada before travelling here.

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“To be honest, nothing except there was snow and it was cold,” she laughed.

Mohammed said Canada is known to refugees as a friendly country.

“Everybody dreams to come to Canada. It’s a peaceful country, all refugees around the world know that.”

To Mohammed, Canada seems to spark with a different kind of energy.

“Back home, life was good. I was a journalist, my husband is a diplomat. But, we ran from our country because we want [what Canada offers]. We are nothing in our country. When we came to Canada, we can feel we are equal. There is no hospital for the poor, for refugees, or for other nationalities.

Mohammed said she spends a lot of time exploring the so-called “festival city” and, with a laugh, explained that she often feels “like I’m six years old.”

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“I just want to say thank you to everyone who is working hard. The people who wake up at four in the morning to work and build a Canadian society. Thank you very much.”

Watch below (Sept. 2, 2018): Sponsors brought a Syrian refugee and his family to Edmonton just 18 months ago. Since then, they’ve not only adjusted to life in the city but also opened a store in the north end. Julia Wong has more.

Click to play video: 'Syrian refugee opens food business in north Edmonton'
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