Serah Gazali is an Arab woman living and working in British Columbia. As a refugee from Saudi Arabia, she has had to work hard to build herself a life as a new Canadian. That experience has allowed her more insight into the settlement process, and she has built a career and a life on helping new Canadians become comfortable during a time that can be fraught and complex.
She’s currently doing her Master’s at the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. Fittingly, she is writing her thesis on the topic of belonging. It’s a topic that is very close to her heart, and it is something she strives to help others feel every day in her work.
What She’s Known For
Gazali is a founding member and participant in the Arab Women’s Cluster in British Columbia. The cluster launched in early 2015, but has been picking up steam. Already, the participants have created a private Facebook group for easy communication, and are working on a website and a food truck.
The cluster is made up of Arabic-speaking women from diverse backgrounds. Some worked in the film industry of their former countries. Others worked in IT, hairdressing or in clothing factories. Many have refugee status.
The cluster is designed to help these women learn to thrive as new Canadians. It began with a twelve-week course, the first half of which was designed to help the new Canadian women communicate and network effectively. The second half of the course focused on financial literacy, specifically it was focused on helping these new Canadian women understand the way finances work in British Columbia.
Trust and Friendship
The course was a success, but Gazali points out that some of the most valuable things that were gained were not the focus of the course. Instead, they happened the way so many good things happen: by getting like-minded people together. The women developed bonds of trust and friendship, something that Gazali notes can be very difficult for refugees.
“Coming from a war zone, trust becomes a very precious commodity,” says Gazali. “You cannot give it to just anyone because it might mean losing your life.”
According to Gazali, friendships amongst the group’s members flourished after the group introduced their private Facebook group for easy communication. Gazali was at first worried that not everyone in the group would be comfortable with this kind of communication, but thanks to the global proliferation of mobile phones and texting, they were already familiar with that style of communication and they picked it up very quick.
“Their connection from that point on was on a different level,” says Gazali. “They are best friends now. And their kids are best friends.”
Gazali is a refugee herself. She was born in Saudi Arabia, but came to North America. Since then, she has been working to make that process easier for refugees. She has worked with Mexican Aid for Refugees, which focuses specifically on women affected by the Iraqi conflicts.
When she moved to Canada, she began working at the Immigrant Services Society of BC, helping to settle Arab refugees in British Columbia. Her experience has taught her that there is no one way to go about this. Every case needs to be treated differently.
“It goes case-by-case,” she says. “The meaning of settlement from one person to another is very different.”
She was able to bring that experience to bear when starting the Arab Women’s Cluster. She knew that a one-size-fits-all solution would simply not work. Instead, the organization would have to be structured in a way to encourage resource sharing and self-empowerment.
How We Helped
WEC was one of the first funders of the Arab Women’s Cluster. As part of our larger Cluster Project, we were able to provide feedback and resources to Gazali’s cluster. Two of our board members, Gulaili Habib and Melanie Conn, played an integral role in advising and coaching the members of the Arab Women’s Cluster.
“I call them our godmothers,” laughs Gazali. “Our spiritual godmothers.”
And so they remain to this day. Though the funding stage of the project is over, Gazali still calls WEC’s members on a regular basis. If there is an important email she’s sending, she might copy them, just to ensure that everyone’s in the loop.
What’s Next for the Arab Women’s Cluster
According to Gazali, the women of the Arab Women’s Cluster have big plans for their next steps, though not all of them will come together as easily as others.
“Everything is feasible if you put your mind to it,” says Gazali, “but in terms of what we can do at the time being, we came up with two things.”
Those two things are arts and crafts and cooking. The cluster is currently working on setting up an online storefront to sell handmade crafts. The name? Arabiat, which means Arabic woman. They also plan to start a food truck to show off their cooking talents.
Wherever the future leads them, it’s clear that these ambitious women have had a good start. They are grounded within the community, and that gives them a good foundation on which to build.