Bio: Akiko Ohta is a PhD student in Languages, Cultures and Literacies and a member of the SFU Mental Health Services Research Lab. She was recently an Evaluation Lead for a pilot project supporting Government-Assisted-Refugee mothers in Canada and has also worked on rural community development in several Islamic countries. Akiko is particularly interested in approaches that support refugee mothers’ individual challenges and complexities, enabling them to feel a sense of belonging in their new home and empowering them to pursue a future.
You have extensive field experience in working with different communities around the world. Is this something that made you interested working with refugee mothers in Canada?
It certainly has. I have always been passionate about working with local communities. In the desert area of Morocco, I worked with women’s associations to create income-generating projects, raise awareness in public health, and organize adult literacy class in villages. In Bangladesh and Thailand, I worked for UNESCO as an intern to revitalize community learning centres as a hub in rural areas for local people. Women were encouraged to learn new skills to expand their interests and capabilities, and children who had to drop out of school for various reasons could take classes there to fill educational gaps and go back to school again.
More recently, in Lebanon close to the Syrian border, I worked for refugee families who crossed the border to Lebanon. My main role at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was to coordinate Syrian children’s smooth transition to public school in Lebanon in partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Education and UNICEF. It was 2015 when I was there; things were very chaotic as the influx of refugees was growing larger, and the political situations were unstable. We were doing our best to ensure the minimum needs of the refugees were met.
I was so lucky to be reconnected with refugee families through the pilot refugee mothers’ project in Canada. My experience in Lebanon left me with regrets about how little I could do for them in those chaotic situations. However, here in Canada, refugee families are more protected and supported in communities. I was excited to support their journey through this project upon arriving in Canada.