Blog written by Ashley, class of 2016.
Interviewing the CEO.
Through UBC MasterCard Scholarship Foundation, I had the privilege of interviewing Atira Women’s Resource Society’s CEO, Janice Abbott. Atira is located in Vancouver Downtown East side, the poorest part of Vancouver. It works especially with indigenous women – the most marginalised in Canadian society. The interview would mark a turning point in my perceptions, aspirations and beliefs.
In the Summer of 2017, I remember stepping into her office with my palms sweating from excitement and nervousness. I was amazed by every story she told me and the wisdom she has accumulated over the years while leading an organization I have come to adore. The interview felt more like an enriching conversation, and it ended with her asking if I would want to work with Atira on a part time basis. I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with women of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
I wasted no time to accept the offer. In a few days, I was balancing my time between academics and working as a receptionist for non-residential programs at Atira. Every day at work was a blessing; I greeted women and connected them to resources such as Counselling, Housing Support workers and Legal advocacy programs. It was fulfilling in more ways than I could imagine! Many women would open up to me and I would lend an ear. From their stories, I experienced remarkable personal growth and the power of listening. I became more aware of issues that affect women within and beyond my community.
I worked at the reception desk for about a year and a half before transferring to the fundraising and development department as an assistant. This was yet another great chance to learn about an important aspect of all non-governmental organizations. I was able to polish my communication skills and understand how the various programs are funded. However, I kept missing the personal connections I developed as I interacted with women in my previous role. I started to volunteer with the legal advocacy department during my free time to seek some fulfilment.
New role created for me!
Three months later, a position was created for me to work as a legal advocate assistant. I am the first person to occupy such an office. I could not be prouder and happier for myself. It is a very intimidating job because almost everyone I work with is an accomplished lawyer. I continue to assimilate new information and skills in my new job.
What I have learned.
The benefit of getting this rare opportunity to have a professional job that is more or less related to your major helps in finding your interest as an individual. For me, I love working with vulnerable populations. My interest in advocacy and development was confirmed through hands on experience at Atira.
The experience I am getting at Atira continues to equip me with the skills I need for my ideas of giving to communities back home to materialize. As a result, I have been involved with Life, Hope and Future Association, an organization that aims to empower women from a marginalized rural community in Zimbabwe. I am currently assisting with fundraising, advocacy and implementing empowerment projects for women through agriculture. I have been using my fundraising skills to apply for grants to help the community to start their own businesses and generate a stable income.
When I started at Atira, I was surprised at the levels of poverty within certain societal groups, despite Canada – and Vancouver, in particular – having such affluence. It reminded me a lot of home. My time at Atira has been a journey of self-actualization and growth in terms of understanding the social inequalities faced by minorities. Working with these women has enlightened my understanding of different structures in society, especially the justice system and social welfare. It informs my studies (I am majoring in Sociology and a minor in Law and Society) and clarifies my career goals. I hope to study for a Master’s in International Development and return home to work with the needy in my country.