Today is World Refugee Day, a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness about the more than 70 million refugees and forcibly displaced persons worldwide and promote actions towards solutions. As a part of World Refugee Day, we’re bringing you the story of Munifa Ahmed, an Ethiopian refugee from Saudi Arabia who is forging a path as an entrepreneur in Canada, having arrived in 2017.
Often, the stories you might hear about refugees fall into one of two categories. First, there are the success stories: the refugee who flees conflict to seamlessly launch a new and successful life in Canada; the Canadian dream, so to speak. Then, there are the heartbreaking stories, those that elicit sympathy and pity, and promote global action. But what about the stories that fall in between?
Munifa’s story is undoubtedly a story of success, but success built by overcoming barrier after barrier, through perseverance and despite systemic challenges.
Munifa’s story reminds us that the refugee experience continues long after the border is crossed and the hearings are over, and inspires us to engage critically with how we can better support refugees in Canada, both at an individual and a community level.
Who is Munifa Ahmed?
Munifa is an exuberant young professional, living in Surrey, and working as a digital analyst. When I spoke with her she was animated, excitedly running over the details of her life on the west coast. Underpinning her lightheartedness is a deep passion and determination, the work ethic that has helped her to carve out her professional life in British Columbia.
Munifa identifies as a global citizen. She’s Ethiopian, but was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and has lived in many locations across the Sahara Desert and the horn of Africa, before coming to Canada. “Back in Saudi I was a very ambitious girl.” Munifa told me. “I was working hard for my school. I adopted these dreams and ambitions from these movies I watched, from Hollywood. I always dreamed about being educated and making an impact on the world, and so being here honestly I feel truly for the first time, home.”
Before finding “home” on Canada’s west coast, Munifa’s first port of call in Canada was Vancouver’s bigger and brasher older sibling, Toronto, where she waited with a growing number of refugee claimants in shelters dotted around the city.
When I asked her about the move from Toronto to Vancouver, she described what it was like for her in Toronto. “There’s so much competition,” she states. “Like, imagine: there’s a job position and there are more than 10,000 people applying, and although I was able to finally find a job, like a good medical secretary job, it was a rabbit hole. It was just paycheque-to-paycheque and I wasn’t able to continue my education.”
In June of 2018, Munifa packed up again and made the move to Vancouver, where she has been able to find employment opportunities, but again, only through significant effort. She identified the need for tech workers and enrolled in courses. “I took a program, a bootcamp in coding. It was challenging, but I didn’t just graduate and get a job, I had to take more courses, I had to network a lot and eventually I took another program at another community centre, and that is what secured my job.”
She has now been working at Apples & Oranges analytics startup as a digital analyst and marketer since May 2019. “If you’re a woman, go and take a couple weeks in a tech space, in design or in coding, or anything that will help you excel.” she advised, “I became a digital analyst after maybe two or three months of courses. People who are graduates from college are not able to find the job I’m doing.”
Her new job isn’t the only measure of success in her life. Outside her role as a digital analyst, Munifa has also been working on her own project, an app that she plans to use to combat climate change.