By: Amir Khan, Communications Generalist
As Zohra Waiz embarked on her journey from Bamyan, Afghanistan to Canada in 2015, the escalating war in her homeland prompted many Afghans, including Zohra’s family, to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. Zohra was recently joined by her sister, Sharifa in September, 2023.
Both are now in Canada, anticipating the arrival of the rest of their family.
“Like any new immigrant, I was working from the start again,” says Zohra.
Zohra’s initial exposure to Canadian culture came through her work with Right To Play, a Canadian non-profit in Afghanistan. Despite the challenges of starting anew in a foreign land, Zohra managed to establish her own retail business in 2016, reflecting on her humble beginnings in Canada with optimism and a desire to reunite with her family.
The mixed emotions of leaving one’s country were not lost on Zohra, who acknowledges the uncertainties but found solace in the safety and the prospect of calling Canada home. Sharifa shares the sentiment, emphasizing the profound joy that accompanies escaping difficult circumstances.
“It’s upsetting in the sense that you’re leaving your country and your people, and you don’t know what to expect. We kind of had an idea, but we were both really happy to be in a safer place. We were really happy to be in a place that we can call our home,” Zohra recalls.
According to Zohra, MOSAIC is renowned in the Afghan Canadian community for its work in resettling newcomers and played a pivotal role in Zohra and Sharifa’s integration. MOSAIC provided vital support, guidance, and orientation on navigating life in Canada to the two sisters.
The challenge of securing skills-commensurate employment in Canada loomed large for Zohra and Sharifa. While Sharifa navigates a temporary job, she is grateful for the support of her sibling in Canada, recognizing the difficulty of settlement without family assistance.
The announcement by the British Columbia government Nov. 8 introduced the International Credentials Recognition Act aimed at fast-tracking accreditation for certain professions brings hope, but challenges persist in many fields.
Zohra’s academic background in biology and biodiversity, although impressive, faced hurdles in the Canadian system, compelling her to contemplate a return to university. Despite the difficulties, both sisters draw strength from gratitude, family support, and a determination to overcome obstacles.
“I see many things that are beautiful, that keeps us going, and the most important is our family,” says Sharifa.
“I think my fears are the biggest motivators,” Zohra adds. “Sometimes I feel like I am more motivated by what is going to happen to me if I don’t do something than the outcome itself. It was the support from my family and the people around me, and there are many people who have done many good things that I can look at [as an example].”
Looking ahead, Sharifa aspires to continue her non-profit work, aiming to contribute to the well-being of the community in Canada, just as she did in Afghanistan. Zohra, harbouring a childhood dream of being an artist and scientist, plans to devote herself full-time to her art once her family reunites. Her artwork was already displayed at local exhibitions at Simon Fraser University and the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture, among other local organizations. She also hopes to continue her education in biodiversity.
Zohra’s exhibition artwork. Courtesy: Zohra Waiz
Their advice to newcomers resonates with the ethos of hard work and empathy. Zohra and Sharifa encourage newcomers to strive for a better life while remembering those left behind, advocating for support and efforts to help those who didn’t have the opportunity to reach the same shores.
“Don’t forget those who have been left behind and did not have any opportunity to come to the place where we are. We shouldn’t forget them and do whatever we can do for them,” Sharifa says.
Many Afghans like Zohra and Sharifa still need your help during their settlement journey to Canada. Bring hope to refugees and save lives today by donating. Click here to watch our special public service announcement in support of the MOSAIC Afghan Response Fund.