Meet the new COA Facilitator and Coordinator in Islamabad, Pakistan

19 Sep Meet the new COA Facilitator and Coordinator in Islamabad, Pakistan

COA Pakistan has been providing orientation sessions to refugees and immigrants bound to Canada since 2001. Meet the new COA Coordinator and Facilitator, Ms. Farzana Mansoor, who recently returned to Pakistan after more than 10 years living and working in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Farzana Mansoor

COA Coordinator and Facilitator in Islamabad, Pakistan

How did you become a facilitator with the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Program? 

My family immigrated to Canada in 2005. Right from the beginning, I knew I wanted to get a degree in education and training.  After completing a Master’s degree in ‘Administration and Leadership in Education’ from Brock University, I obtained my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. I also hold a certificate for the “Immigrant Settlement Training” program offered at the University of Toronto.

I worked as a settlement counsellor for newcomers in the Greater Toronto Area for over 8  years, closely collaborating with partners providing settlement services in schools, language training programs, recruitment and  job-placement services to  Internationally Trained Individuals, and employment services to new immigrants. My role involved providing information and referrals related to education, health, housing, immigration, legal services, parenting and children’s programs, recreational opportunities for low income families, and resources for clients with special needs. Being fluent in Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi, I also provided interpretation services to clients with language barriers.

I moved back to Pakistan in February 2016 – almost exactly ten years after having immigrated to Canada. I was fortunate to find the vacancy with the COA program just a few days upon returning. My experiences were very well aligned with the requirements of the position, and I was very excited to apply. By the end of February 2016, I had a job!

Farzana Mansoor, the new COA Coordinator and Facilitator in Islamabad, Pakistan

How is your day-to-day work?

The COA permanent site in Islamabad is a longstanding operation, with experienced staff and well-rounded processes. As a coordinator and facilitator for all Planning for Canada activities specifically, I also receive extensive support from the global management team.

As coordinator, I am tasked with planning all the orientation sessions delivered to Economic and Family Class immigrants. Other IOM colleagues, in the Pre-Departure Orientation Unit, are in charge of scheduling sessions for refugees.

COA Pakistan provides in-person orientation in a number of locations including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. In preparation for a Planning for Canada session, I have to contact eligible participants to confirm attendance, compile the list of participants, arrange for  a suitable training venue, organize the facilitators’ training schedules, and monitor all aspects of program delivery to ensure accurate reporting in our internal database.

As a facilitator, I have to prepare for the session by reviewing our curricula and training resources. I normally scrutinize the group’s profile in order to research and adapt the examples I will use to the professional background of the individuals in the training room; along with their education and province of destination. Keeping abreast of a wide range of immigration-related news is another essential part of my duties. This helps me understand and explore settlement services and programming in various Canadian communities, and guide newcomers to these important sources of support and information. Being in direct contact with newcomers preparing for their move to Canada, I am also acutely aware of the questions and concerns they have and equally able to identify new and emerging areas of interest, which feeds into our program resource development process.

What does it entail to be a facilitator and provide pre-arrival orientation to newcomers?

Facilitators must have excellent group engagement skills, combined with strong interpersonal abilities. A good facilitator is research-oriented; takes time to describe the situations/problems in a realistic way; elaborates issues by sharing personal experiences and real-life examples; empathizes with participants; and encourages active participation of the attendees.

As the first Canadian contact for newcomers preparing to settle in Canada, the COA facilitators play a critical role in helping newcomers identify their pathway to success in Canada. Having had the personal experience of moving, living and working in Canada certainly contributes to establishing a relation with the participants. Rapport-building is essential to earn the trust of the participants, and to really get to understand their situation, questions and concerns. As a facilitator, I try to answer each and every one of the questions that are raised in the training room. Some topics are challenging to discuss as a group, but I have developed different strategies to address difficult questions in a positive manner.

As facilitators, our role is to provide newcomers with an accurate picture of what to expect, and ensure that they are aware of the support and tools available to them upon arrival in Canada. Balancing our message to keep them motivated and hopeful, while also realistic and aware of the importance of a sound preparation, can be tricky when you start delivering orientation sessions overseas. However, the time we spend individually with the participants, following the group orientation session, provides us with the opportunity to assess their needs and guide them towards partners that will help them navigate the complexities of the post-arrival system.

Who are the participants that you serve in Islamabad and the other locations covered through COA Pakistan?

Interestingly enough, a lot of our principal applicants are engineers with five to fifteen years of experience in their professional field. Individuals with a background in the financial sector (e.g. chartered accountants, financial analysts, bankers, etc.) and health sector (e.g. doctors and other health professionals) are also very common among our participants. Lastly, we see many individuals self-identifying as ‘homemakers’ who intend to set-up small businesses in Canada.

Pakistani participants come to the Planning for Canada session with a lot of information obtained from friends, internet blogs and sites.   However, some of the sources that they use to gather information are not always reliable. As facilitators, we have to debunk a lot of myths, and deconstruct some of the misconceptions newcomers have about Canada and Canadians. As English is generally not a barrier for Pakistani immigrants, most of the participants arrive well prepared, with a set of specific questions pertaining to important topics such as credentials assessment and recognition. Our referral process really contributes to addressing these specialized needs, and ensuring that participants take the necessary steps to accelerate their integration process upon landing.

What do you find the most challenging in being a COA facilitator? What do you find the most rewarding?

As facilitators, the “learning curve” is endless. Staying well-informed of all newcomers’ settlement and employment news, research and services is certainly challenging while carrying other ongoing duties. Another noticeable challenge, in the recent months, is reaching eligible clients and ensuring that they are aware of our services. Many more departing immigrants could benefit from these sessions – which are free. In the next few weeks, we want to work with former participants in order to raise the visibility of our program in Pakistan, and really underscore the benefits of our program to Canada-bound immigrants.

Participants’ positive feedback is by far the most rewarding aspect of our work. Participants leave the training room knowing what they want and how to get it. They thoroughly appreciate the opportunity to discuss their personal objectives with facilitators and Focal Point Partners (FPPs) in Canada. Through these exchanges, they are able to come up with a clear strategy to achieve their goals. As we stay in touch with many former participants, we are able to assess our impact on their trajectory and learn from their outcomes.

The feeling that I am able to make a difference in someone’s life is certainly the best part of this job!