In 2022 Wazhma arrived in Canada, and would begin her journey with PIRS. However, her story does not start there. Wazhma was born and raised in Afghanistan. She achieved impressive academic milestones, earning a doctor of medicine degree and studying dentistry. She worked as a dentist while also serving full-time as a Public Health Expert with different national and international organizations. Completing her Master’s degree in Public Health in 2016, she was recognized with a Civil Society Leadership Award in 2018, leading her to pursue further studies in Germany.
Wazhma’s aspirations were deeply rooted in her homeland. “I wanted to do something for my people, to serve them and to improve their health status,” she says. However, the situation changed when the Taliban took control, and she had to leave her country.
Coming to Canada was a big change, and she felt lost in the beginning. After a few weeks of searching, she discovered PIRS on the list of settlement organizations given to her by an IRCC officer. She reached out to Sanzida Habib, Coordinator of Women’s Leadership and Development Programs, who helped her register for the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) program, and later the Building Bridges program.
The programs provided a supportive environment for Wazhma to share her story, regain confidence, and hone leadership skills.
“The programs I have taken with PIRS provided me with great opportunities. Through these programs I was able to deepen my leadership skills and expand my knowledge on different aspects in Canada. I was connected with wonderful people and I received lots of support for fulfilling my goals in Canada. These programs are empowering and I encourage every newcomer woman to become a part of PIRS,” Wazhma says.
LEAD was the first program that Wazhma attended. Its focus on personal development, creating connections and building leadership skills helped her to begin feeling safer in Canada. “When the program started, I was very quiet”, she says. “Because I went through a lot during the last two years, I became very quiet when I arrived in Canada. I was not talking to people and I was kind of scared of everyone.” She smiles softly, reflecting on how far she’s come since those early days in Canada. Now, she speaks confidently, conveying her own strength, resilience and the personal growth she’s experienced.
Being part of the Building Bridges program guided her to hone public speaking and facilitation skills and provided a platform to share her story. In the Graduating Conference in July 2023 Wazhma delivered an insightful presentation Pathways to Career in Dental Health, sharing her passion and goal to work as a dentist in Canada.
Following her goal, Wazhma is now pursuing dental certification. The Amy Dalgleish Memorial Endowment Fund distributed by PIRS in 2023 supported her registration and preparatory courses at the National Dental Examinations Board of Canada (NDEB). This fund assists immigrant and refugee women pursuing education or training to improve their employability.
While pursuing her dental certification, Wazhma also looks forward to volunteering with PIRS as she believes strongly in supporting racialized immigrant women through organizations like PIRS. As she says, “They are suffering a lot. In our country males are very dominant. PIRS realized that racialized women need support and need to be empowered.”
Community-based low-barrier programs that provide education and training empower women to be independent. Wazhma adds, “Women should get involved as women cannot be dependent on husbands here, they need to work and empower themselves. It also makes them more independent and builds important skills to achieve their goals, to be strong here, to work here and to have a good future.”
This fall, help us support immigrant and refugee women building new lives for themselves and their children in Canada. To donate, click here.