Sister2Sister: A leadership program for immigrant women in Toronto
Leila Naderi shares her experience living in a “one-curtain” bachelor apartment with her husband, and the challenges of finding affordable housing in Toronto at a recent Toastmasters workshop organized by Toronto-based Newcomer Women’s Services’ Sister2Sister leadership training program.
“Getting the opportunity to prepare a speech about the need for affordable housing was very rewarding,” recalls Naderi. “It’s a huge issue—it doesn’t just affect me.”
The Toastmaster sessions were part of the six-month training program that Naderi says gave her the “tools and strategies to help smooth” her path to her new life in Canada after she arrived from Iran in 2018.
“Without any exaggeration, this program can be life-changing,” she explains. “Especially for newcomers who want to have a more productive life.”
The goal of the Sister2Sister program is to help immigrant women find their voice and build their networks. It’s for women who want to make a difference in their lives and their communities. The program offers leadership training, workshops, community development and violence prevention programming.
The program was created by two ‘sisters’ in 2019, who shared the same passion for advocating for women and their rights: Judy Fantham of Newcomer Women’s Services and Sarah Asalya of Ryerson’s Newcomer Students’ Association, who is also a winner of the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant awards.
Fantham, who has become a fierce advocate for immigrant women, joined Newcomer Women’s Services as executive director in 2018. At the time, Fantham says that she knew that the experience of redefining yourself as a woman in a new country would be different than her own, and realized that she needed to understand that experience if she was to be an effective advocate.
In 2019, she sought out Asalya who was born and raised in Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight Palestinian refugee camps. Deeply impacted by the displacement and trauma all around her, Asalya is passionate about social justice and human rights.
“When we first met, we talked about creating a program that would empower immigrant women and support them in their leadership development and civic engagement journey,” explains Fantham. “We wanted to create an outcome-driven program that would have a real impact on these women’s lives.”
Hundred of emails, a dozen coffee shop meetings and two community consultations later, Sister2Sister was launched.
Results from the program reflect the meaningful change in women’s lives. At the start of the program, 65 per cent of the women said they were “getting by,” which meant they had basic resources and support. Zero percent said they were thriving. At the end of the six months, 55 per cent said they were getting ahead, and 20 per cent were thriving.
A second six-month program is being launched in January 2021.
A virtual #Standup Women 2020 event is being organized to celebrate the 2020 Sister2Sister graduates and to raise funds to support the next class in 2021. Tickets can be purchased on a sliding scale. Learn more about the event and purchase tickets here.
Canadian Immigrant is a supporter of the Sister2Sister program.