Determination with a Smile!
Afrah Rayes’ Story of Determination
The year was 1992 and Afrah Rayes remembers it well; she and her family moved to Canada from Baghdad Iraq to build a brighter future.
“We moved to Toronto, and I had two small kids – a six month old baby and a two year old,” she shares.
Even though it was a new country, a new culture and she had strong family commitments with her two children, Afrah was determined to work in her field of urban design that she loved so much.
“I was told by many that it would not be easy. I was told the culture was different, my lack of computer skills were not accepted, and the politics were tough to navigate; I listened but was not scared to follow my passion. I was determined,” she adds.
Afrah started by knocking on doors. When she visited the City of Brampton, she was welcomed by a leader at the Planning Section and it was him that guided her first foundational steps to future success.
“He took the time to sit down with me, and he told me straight-up what I needed to do. The urban design practice was different in Canada, they were using computers and in that area I had no skills – so I went back to school. He also told me to join a professional affiliation of planning or architecture and let people know how much you can offer by looking for volunteer work. I had some work to do.”
The planning system in Iraq was also different. Once she felt more confident with the Canadian planning system and her skills, she went back to the City of Bampton and that same leader met with her again and referred her for a volunteer opportunity.
“I started volunteering with the City of Mississauga until I moved to Calgary a few months later. I knocked on doors again because there were different provincial planning by-laws that I needed to learn.”
Once again she landed volunteer work that helped her learn the Alberta planning system. She knew she eventually wanted to work for the City of Calgary and was persistent but patient – and eventually her efforts paid off.
“I was over joyed when I was hired by the City of Calgary as development planner! It was a dream come true to once again be working in a field that I loved. I stayed with them for 14 years!”
Now heading for retirement, Afrah is spending a lot of her time giving back through mentoring. She is a long-time volunteer with CRIEC, the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council, as a mentor for internationally trained professionals new to Canada.
“Face-to-face time provides such moral and emotional support that builds confidence. That is what many newcomers need, confidence.”
She knows what it’s like to need to help and guidance, and feels blessed to have received so much support many years ago.
“I kept in touch with the leader from the City of Brampton. He has since retired. I often think of my situation as being lost in the forest and needing to find those bread crumbs to help guide me out. He provided those crumbs. I am so grateful and now want to do want I can for others,” Afrah remarks with a smile.
Her approach with mentees is to emphasize that many have the hard skills, but it’s the soft skills they need support with.
“I believe mentoring is: encouragement, contentment, assurance, hope and joy. Mentoring is a great exchange between two people who listen intently without judgement. It is a safe place where you can provide empathy to almost any situation.”
And it’s an exchange she plans to keep having well into her new retirement years.
“The skies the limits!” she adds.
You can learn more about CRIEC’s mentorship program and sign up here
CRIEC builds pathways and positive relationships between Calgary employers and internationally trained professionals (ITPs) that encourage hiring and retention.
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Milton Berle