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From Refugee to Member of the Board

Every year, on June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day. It is a day to remember and recognize the plight of refugees around the world, their simple need for protection, security, freedom and respect. According to the most recent estimate from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 10 million refugees worldwide today. Another 26 million is estimated to be internally displaced due to conflict alone. Through the resettlement program, Canada selects 10,000 to 12,000 refugees annually from around the world, making it a global leader in resettlement efforts. SISO is a forerunner organization in resettlement programs, serving more than 3,500 clients annually. Yet, SISO’s efforts go beyond basic needs of shelter, safety, and education. SISO encourages and supports refugees and immigrants in their pursuit of successful resettlement in Canada, as their success in turn contributes to Canada’s success as a whole. Hussein Hamdani, SISO Board Member and Lawyer by profession, is a perfect example of a successful refugee story, and how investing in refugees today can only contribute to a better Canada tomorrow. Born in Kampala, Uganda to Yemeni parents, Hussein Hamdani immigrated to Canada with his parents as refugees, and

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Aug-Sep 2008 • Vol 1 • Issue 10-11

settled in the Niagara Region. With a farming background in Africa, his father decided to buy a farm in Fort Erie and later moved on to other business opportunities. Hussein’s parents worked long and hard hours for many years to support their large family. Their hard work paid off and they became very successful as they mastered the dry cleaning business. Hussein was the first one in his family to graduate and become successful in his profession. Attending McMaster University to complete his studies in Political Science and History, he then attended the University of Toronto to obtain a Masters of Art in International Relations, and finally the University of Western Ontario to attain a law degree. Currently he is a Lawyer at Simpson Wigle LLP, where he practices corporate/ commercial and real state law. He is Chair and Board Member of the North American Spiritual Revival, a non-denominational organization that encourages spirituality in daily life. In March 2005, Hussein was selected as one of 15 Canadians to sit on the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, where he advises the federal government on security-related issues. In May 2005 he was selected to sit on the Board of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, a civilian body that overseas police conduct. Hussein is also one of the founders of the Dialogue Committee of Hamilton Muslims, Arabs and Jews, and was appointed to sit on the Hamilton Chief of Police’s Community Advisory Committee. He speaks often on social and religious issues. Hussein’s involvement with SISO began as a volunteer in early 2000. At the time he was volunteering as a translator speaking 5 languages. In 2004, he was approached to be interviewed as a Board Member and

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has been active since then. Being a Board Member has been beneficial to Hussein on many levels. It has given him exposure as a lawyer while meeting people from various backgrounds. Hussein greatly enjoys helping people buy homes, and start or incorporate their own business. He believes it is extremely important to invest in one another as by giving to newcomers they will contribute more in return. This opportunity was once given to his father and he hopes that it will continue for the coming generations of immigrants and refugees. In his own words: “If we try to understand the difficulties faced by refugees while eliminating some of their stress, they can focus on contributing back to society. It is an investment put in people and you get that in return. Even if they don’t have Canadian experience it will benefit us in the end.” Hussein believes the situation has gotten better but we still have a long way to go he says. He believes mastering the language to be extremely important since without proper English immigrants will not succeed in this country. Focus should be placed on English and French as this will open many doors for immigrants; there should be continuous and dedicated funding to ESL programs for immigrants. We asked Hussein if he had any advice for newcomers as well as Canadian employers. In his reply he encouraged employers to take the risk of hiring newcomers to Canada while promising that they will greatly benefit in return. These benefits include a fresh perspective, different insight, and tapping into a different market. Hussein himself has clients from many backgrounds and enjoys the fresh perspective and different ideas that they bring in.

As for newcomers, he asks them to be patient and steadfast. He understands it is very tough as the Canadian reality is not to their expectations. Just continue working hard, master the language and try to match up the credentials he suggests. “Unfortunately doctors end up driving taxis as they have to feed their families and they give up hope. I encourage them to continue the quest and write the exams, and lobby the federal government to put pressure on the regulatory bodies.” Again, he encourages the importance of mastering the English language. Hussein remembers and acknowledges how difficult it is for newcomers and that if given the chance they can become very successful. His family was given a chance during their beginnings in Canada and now he is giving back to society and this is where his passion lays. Somebody was willing to take the risk and invest in his family and he hopes that others will be given the same chance. Lastly Hussein expressed a desire to help others in his network learn about and participate in the many activities at SISO. Hussein has been actively recruiting others to join him as SISO board members. He feels passionately about the work that SISO has been doing to help newcomers start their lives in Canada. It is his hope that one day there will be more organizations like SISO meeting the needs of newcomers by not only serving them, but by also employing them in a meaningful way. ■ By Lina El-Ahmed & Simin Abassi

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