Reflections on Skills for Change’s Women Empowering Women Forum  |  Mental Health and Networking 

This is a guest blog post by Eliana Toscani, a marketing and communications volunteer at Skills for Change

 

On March 7th, in honour of the International Women’s Day, Skills for Change hosted its third annual Women Empowering Women Forum. The forum was a gathering of inspiring women from incredibly mixed backgrounds. From authors to business owners and from newcomers to indigenous women, there was a great representation and our speakers offered a platform to share their experiences and connect with each other. 

One of the sessions was a panel discussion, featuring four immigrant women with very different lived experiences: 

Carolina Giraldo, originally from Colombia, currently Program Coordinator at the Enrichment Foundation;

Tenzin Tekan, originally from Nepal, currently Program & Operations Director at Parkdale Community Legal Services;

Jhanelle Anderson, originally from Jamaica, currently Research Assistant at the University of Toronto;

and Nouhaila Chelkhaoui, originally from Morocco, currently the founder of Scale Without Borders.

All of the speakers shared their experiences and the paths they took to build their new lives in Canada. For me, the two biggest takeaways from the discussions were: 

Take care of your mental health

Jhanelle Anderson shared with us her story immigrating from Jamaica to Canada. Her father left the island when she was very young in order to seek better opportunities and, once he had become a Canadian citizen, sponsored her and her brother to be able to move to Canada. She was originally denied entry to Canada due to a disability that the government deemed would be a “burden” on the system, but eventually was able to emigrate and join her father and brother. The entire immigration process for her took years, and by the time she was allowed entry to Canada she was a teenager. She hadn’t lived with her father since she had been a little girl and this new family dynamic led to feelings of estrangement and friction within her home. 

Through her story, Jhanelle showcased just how traumatic and draining the process of moving to another country can be on an individual’s mental health. Immigrants can face problems with anxiety, stress and depression while navigating the path to residency and citizenship. She emphasized the importance for everyone to take stock of their mental health and make it a priority to find avenues to help manage negative feelings through this transition period, and beyond. She further emphasized the value that kind acts can have on someone going through a hard time and encouraged all of us to lend a helping hand to anyone who we see might be in need. 

 

Build strong networks

Immigrants, when they first arrive, can feel very isolated from their communities, their culture, and their families. It’s important to find a way to connect with others in similar situations and like-minded individuals, not only for the benefit of their mental health, but in order to create strong professional networks to help them find employment opportunities. 

Skills for Change’s Women Connecting with Women events and workshops present a great opportunity to both build networks and to take care of your mental health. All the women at the panel agreed that they derived great value from the program and found it to be a great place to start to build networks and improve your confidence, if networking doesn’t come naturally to you. The following are other tips panelists gave us on how to build our networks:

Find events you’re interested in

There are events occurring around the Toronto area all the time. Go to events that appeal to you, especially if they have a focus on under-represented communities with which you identify, and talk with new people who share your same interests or work in the same field you’re trying to enter. Whenever you talk to somebody new, focus on how you can add value to the relationship. This is the key to building strong and lasting networks. 

Volunteering 

Carolina Giraldo found her current job through volunteering; her then-supervisor recommended her for the position she now holds. Her advice was to find a volunteer position that aligns with what you want to do in the future and find an organization that will allow you to practice and develop your skills, so that when a job opportunity arrives, you will be ready to take full advantage of it. 

Coffee chats

Nouhaila Chelkhaoui found her first job through networking. She had a few acquaintances in Toronto when she first arrived and, through them, she reached out to more and more people in order to speak to the right individuals that would help her advance her career. 

Tenzin Tekan, on the other hand, said that she avoided networking for a long time, because it gave her such anxiety. She is much more comfortable doing it now, but it took some practice to find what would work best for her. She found a lot of success through coffee chats: simply reaching out to people and asking for a few minutes of their time to meet by simply saying she was looking for guidance, advice or mentorship. In her experience, people have been responsive and eager to help. The worst thing that can happen is that the person you’re reaching out to doesn’t have time, but they may be available to meet with you at a later date. You don’t lose anything by asking!

The single most important advice all panelists agreed on was this: don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. There are lots of amazing people who are willing to help and give advice. The most important thing to do is just START.  

 

Skills for Change’s Women Empowering Women Forum for 2020 was a great success, with over 80 people in attendance. Our 4th annual forum will be organized in March 2021. Click here to find out about Skills for Change’s women’s programs and how you can get involved in the program. 

 

 

Additional photos from the WEW Forum 2020 can be found on our Facebook.

 

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