My Job Now: Mohammed Alsaleh

Mon, 08 Jan 2018

Welcome to My Job Now, a blog profile series featuring workers from across Canada. Engage with the SFU Public Square community by reading stories of career aspiration, professional development, and bumps along the road.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I have always been a dreamer. ​Like many kids, I grew up dreaming of becoming an astronaut. But when I was in high school, I lost a cousin to cancer. So I changed my dream, and made into a mission. I wanted to become a doctor and join the war against cancer. That's how I ended up studying at Med School in Syria.

Like all Syrians, life had other plans for me. The Syrian conflict gradually impacted all aspects of life and in a few years it made more than half of the country's pre-war population of 23 million flee, including me. In a blink of an eye, I lost everything I knew in life and was labeled a refugee.

My life was saved by Canada. I was among the first 28 Syrian refugees ever resettled in BC as part of the first 200 ever resettled in Canada. Canada was the only country that viewed me as a human being dropping the refugee title.

Three years after arriving in Canada all alone, I feel I'm home. I found friendship, community and belonging in Canada and among Canadians. Like many newcomers, I discovered I can't transfer my university credits to continue my medical training here, but I didn't give up. I can still help others but this time by fighting different types of cancers. I got very involved in social justice work and started working in nonprofit.

How has your career path unfolded so far?

From Syria, I fled to neighboring Lebanon and in Lebanon I worked in all sorts of jobs. I painted houses, waited tables and washed cars. I started losing hope until it was restored by Canada.

Coming to Canada as a refugee is very challenging. I didn't have the luxury of planning the biggest event of my life to start with. Suddenly, I found myself in a new country where I have do everything in life again from scratch, and yes your guess is right, I started with English classes. I then enrolled in a healthcare college course.

But I started my career in Canada in a different field. Ever since landing in YVR, I became active in the community advocating for refugee rights. My first job was with the local refugee welcome centre in Vancouver, the same place that welcomed me to Canada.

Later I worked as Youth Worker as part of a national project ​promoting leadership and social impact among newcomer youth.

Currently, I am the Refugee Sponsorship Trainer for BC as part of national network of trainers that supports the private sponsorship of refugees community across the country.

The way we work is constantly changing, from the types of jobs we have, to where we do them. What new opportunities or challenges do you think the future of working might bring?

Sometimes I feel that we are not keeping up with life and the future of everything even though collectively we are the main reason behind it. The example running through my mind now is the competition humanity created between itself and AI and machines. As climate change and other simultaneous and consecutive crises change the very foundation of life as we know it, it's hard to anticipate anything for the future. Life taught me that one can never know what the future holds but one should always be prepared for it.

What challenges have you faced in securing your desired employment situation?

In my opinion, the most challenging part is getting your foot in the door​. The lack of Canadian qualifications, Canadian training and Canadian experience is in the way of many newcomers' success here. Most of Canada's immigration programs are designed to attract the most qualified internationally trained professionals, but when they get here, not only do they not get hired, they often don't even get offered an interview on the basis of having no Canadian experience. I ask the same question immigrants have been asking for years: how can immigrants build Canadian experience when they are never offered Canadian opportunities?

If you were offered a guaranteed basic income of $1,000/month with no strings attached, how might your life be different?

My friends often make fun of me because I don't like days off. In fact, I'm known for showing up at work still on these days, so I don't think I'll consider that. But I will use this extra $1K/month to create an additional project advancing my advocacy work and adding to the value and impact of my involvement in my local community. Perhaps crating an ongoing social media campaign that produces regular high quality awareness videos on issues of the public concern of Canadians can be a good starting point.

Are there any projects you are working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

I was a speaker of TEDx East Van 2017 conference. I will be part of Human Library 2018 which allows Vancouver Public Library (VPL) visitors to "borrow" a human book for 20 minutes. I am an SFU RADIUS 2018 Fellow. I am working on my next talk with TEDx Stanley Park 2018, one of the biggest TEDx events in the world, next March discussing the global refugee crisis. I am writing a children's book and expect to be published late 2018 early 2019. I will be a facilitator with the BC TEAL funded project, A holistic approach to Refugee Men's Health: An English Language Resource. I am sponsoring my displaced family and expect our reunion in the first half of 2018.