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FCSS alumna looks to make a difference volunteering in Tanzania

Awa Ibrahim
Photo courtesy of Awa Ibrahim

When University of Guelph-Humber alumna Awa Ibrahim was in her final semester before graduating from the Family & Community Social Services program, she completed an independent study course under the supervision of FCSS Program Head Dr. Paul Sherman. Ibrahim conducted conceptual research on global citizenship and wrote a paper that explored the idea that it’s important to make a positive contribution to the world, no matter where one is located.

Now, with Ibrahim having since completed a Master of Social Work with a specialization in Human Service Management and Leadership, she’s seizing an opportunity to put those concepts into practice.

Ibrahim has joined the global youth development initiative EQWIP HUBs as a Youth Engagement Officer stationed in Tanzania in east Africa until December 2019. There, she will develop one of 17 youth innovation spaces, with a focus on youth unemployment.

For Ibrahim – whose passions include global citizenship, international development, youth and community development, human rights, poverty reduction and gender equality – this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

“I have long been passionate about these social issues, and my background involves working in related fields here in Canada,” Ibrahim said. “I want to build on my experiences as well as have the opportunity to contribute while gaining new knowledge abroad.

“EQWIP HUBs is providing me with the perfect opportunity to pursue this passion. A chance to work overseas allows me to utilize my skills to work in unfamiliar areas while continuing to develop my awareness of different lived experiences.”

An advocate from a young age

Ibrahim’s interest in social justice and advocacy stems from personal experience and dates back to childhood.

“My motivation began at a very young age and stemmed from my direct living experiences. As a young Muslim, first-generation African-Canadian woman, I have endured the personal experience of being part of a marginalized community,” she reflected. “My life experiences influenced me tremendously to want to work with vulnerable and marginalized populations.

“It is because of this that I got involved in community programs at a young age. I would describe myself as always actively searching for ways to contribute to this society in an impactful way with a keen interest in helping others.

“More specifically, I have always wanted to work with vulnerable populations being that I witnessed the various struggles faced by parts of this community daily.”

Given her deeply felt motivation to effect change, the FCSS program felt like a perfect fit.

“I was drawn to the FCSS program because of my deep interest in social justice,” she said. “The program allowed me to receive three critical outcomes in preparation for my future. I left UofGH with practical experience and academic education through both a degree, diploma, and 850-plus hours of placement experience. I could not have received this enriching experience elsewhere.”

Making a difference

During her time at the University of Guelph-Humber, Ibrahim participated in the FCSS Society, she was named an Academic Merit Scholar and she completed three placements.

Her first placement was with the Working Women Community Centre’s Action for Neighbourhood Change, where she learned about community development and how to identify priorities and implement strategies, as well as the foundations of practising strength-based social work. In her second, Ibrahim worked with Bloordale Middle School’s special education program, furthering her interest in working with vulnerable populations. Finally, she had a placement with the City of Toronto’s Social Development and Finance division.

She still remembers the feeling of pride she felt at Convocation.

“One of my greatest dreams growing up was being able to graduate from post-secondary school, and one of my most notable achievements was doing so,” she recalled.

“Education is an opportunity denied to so many, and it is not an accomplishment I take for granted.”

This trip marks Ibrahim’s first visit both to Tanzania and to the continent of Africa more broadly, which she says is meaningful for her as a first-generation Canadian of Somali descent.

Though it was years ago now, she still thinks back to her senior year independent study course as she prepares to embrace global citizenship.

“I think that independent study course significantly affected my view of having a global impact,” she said.

“At the core, youth unemployment is an issue that affects us all, and I would like to contribute to creating change regardless of where. Since writing that paper, I have always had a strong desire to gain new perspectives through having experiences abroad.”