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Ali Al-Kalely and Huda Al-Ali: Taking it “step-by-step”

January 25, 2016

Although there is no ideal recipe for how to handle the immigration and resettlement process, there is much that Huda Al-Ali and Ali Al-Kalely can teach us about how to do it thoughtfully and successfully.

I first met the inspiring couple in November when they attended a community meeting that the Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership had organized to address how to meet the needs of the 300-400 Syrian refugees who are expected to arrive in Guelph over the next few months. They felt they could help those refugees to settle, especially since they were acquainted with life in Syria (Iraq and Syria are neighbours) and spoke Arabic.

Originally from Iraq, Huda and Ali made their way to Dubai because of the long-lasting war and terrible conditions in their homeland. In 2007, they applied to come to Canada as skilled immigrants – both have engineering degrees. Their application was approved and they became permanent residents in 2010.

Ali was first to make the move to Canada in 2012. He settled in Mississauga because the couple already had connections there, but secured employment several months later in Guelph as a technician. Huda followed in 2013 with their two children (now eleven and seven years old). Her main goal after arriving, at least for a few months, was to help the children to adapt to their new home and school. When she felt that they were more comfortable and settled, she began to look for employment and eventually found meaningful work at Conestoga College after sending out hundreds of résumés. She’s excited that she will also begin teaching engineering at Conestoga in the near future.

Despite the many changes and challenges that Ali and Huda have faced, they are friendly, open, and positive about how their life has unfolded in Guelph. “We are used to small cities, so we love it over here,” says Huda.

They have many insights to share based on their experience, but perhaps the most crucial one is this: If circumstances and resources allow, take the time to get to know the country and community to which you are relocating.

Before settling in Canada, Huda and Ali visited several times and stayed with friends so they could learn more about life in Canada. They heard stories about other internationally trained professionals who had challenges in finding work, and realized they may have to possibly adjust their expectations about working in their field immediately. “You have to have an open mind. You have to work hard,” says Huda. But this reality also urged them to find out what services they could access for help once they decided to settle.

Ali, for instance, participated in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board’s Co-operative Education Program for foreign trained professionals, based in Mississauga. Program participants learn job search skills, including writing a résumé, practicing job interviews, and researching companies in their field or occupation. The second aspect of this program is an unpaid work placement that ultimately provides participants with references and networking opportunities, and may lead to employment with the company. “The work placement allows you to get your foot in the door so you can show all the experience you have brought with you to Canada,” states the website.

Indeed, it was through this program that Ali found his job in Guelph with PNR Railworks.

Huda used the employment services at Lutherwood in Guelph, which runs the Job Search Workshop for Immigrants (JSW). In this program, counselors review a participant’s employment goals, Canadian occupation knowledge, and current job search strategies, and help the participant to create a plan to reach his or her immediate and professional employment goals. The centre also provides workshops that build job search skills.

When asked what other advice they would give to other newcomers, Huda answers almost immediately: “Have patience. Take it step-by-step, each day at a time. Don’t expect to have everything at once. It’s a different community, different country. When you travel from one place to another, you assume that your training and degrees will be noticed. It is a big problem for people with professional careers. But it takes time to get professional equivalency. You have to work hard for it and make some compromises,” she says.

Because they knew no-one in Guelph, Huda volunteered in her children’s school to meet people. “The community in the school was very supportive and welcoming,” she says.

And they in turn are now giving back to the community by extending a welcome to newcomers who will surely need all the help and support we can give them after untold suffering and struggle.

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership