By Becky Benoit
Most newcomers to Fort McMurray face challenges. At one time or another, virtually everyone has been frustrated in an attempt to find the closest Starbucks, or the best place to order Chinese take-out. But for recent immigrants to Canada, the obstacles of moving to a new community are much more significant, asNargis Zaid can attest.
The 37-year old is now a successful business owner of H&H Eastern Wear, as well as the vice-president of the Pakistan Canada Association of Fort McMurray. When she arrived in Fort McMurray in 2007, it took all of her considerable tenacity of spirit to leap the hurdles she faced.
“When I left my home country to arrive in Canada, I decided then that wherever I landed would be home,” she says, adding that the biggest challenges she faced were the language barrier, the struggle to find a job and the lack of affordable housing.
Zargis immediately set about taking ESL classes to improve her English, and found an affordable place to live through Wood Buffalo Housing and Development. The struggle to find employment wasn’t an easy barrier to overcome, however.
“Most immigrants to Canada immigrate through the Federal Skilled Worker program,” she explains. “These people were accepted by Canada for their particular skill, so they think they are guaranteed to easily find a job in their new home, but that’s not always the case. Once they arrive here, their education and experience no longer meet the criteria for qualifying for the same job, which is why it’s necessary to upgrade your qualifications and start with a lower-positioned job.”
Zaid decided to take the bull by the horns and start her own business, rather than struggling away at a menial job for minimum wage, and H&H Eastern Wear was born. The company was the first to offer traditional Pakistani wear in Fort McMurray.
Recognizing a gap for newcomers from Pakistan, Zaid was instrumental in the formation of the Pakistan Canada Association. “We felt the need to create a platform that will help the Pakistani community in every way possible, answering the simple questions like where to do useful courses, what to do when upgrading or what institute to contact when looking for a job,” Zaid explains. “We also thought it was important to openly introduce our culture in Fort McMurray and recognize other cultures that are present.”
Zaid has also been an active volunteer in the campaign of PC candidate Don Scott and the Progressive Conservative party. “It is a responsibility for every Canadian citizen to case their vote, so they’re involved in the changes that occur in their community, but I think that the responsibility doesn’t end there,” she says. “We should also volunteer in root level, local politics and act as a bridge between citizens and their representatives.” She adds, “Being involved in local politics helps you settle into a community because you know what’s happening in your city.”