In conversation with Ann Youssef, Settlement Counsellor

ann

Ann Youssef

Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Helped form who you are today? Your parents, friends, school?

I was born in Cairo, Egypt. I believe the most important thing that stood out for me during my childhood but also up to today was the enrollment at a German School in Cairo. I am extremely grateful for my parents taking such a “hard” decision at that time to enroll me in a “foreign” school. There, I have learned not only the language, but also the culture; I was raised up on discipline, taking responsibility and accountability, and most importantly diversity. I was really lucky to start travelling in a young age and get introduced to different families and schools in various countries. Travelling became one of my hobbies and working abroad a dream of mine.

When did you come to Canada, what made you decide on Canada and Ottawa?

I landed in Canada as an immigrant in 2012, but only decided to live in Canada in October 2015. The main reason why my family and I had decided to live in Ottawa was basically work related. We thought Ottawa is not as crowded as Toronto, meanwhile might provide a good job opportunity.

What is your educational background?

I have a MA in International Relations, am a holder of German Language Diploma, and have a Diploma in Psycho-Social Issues of Forced Migrants and Refugees.

You spent a number of years in Germany among other places. What was the experience like?

Germany is a beautiful country; it always feels like home. I have also been to Kenya, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, France, Switzerland, Hungary, the US, as well as other countries and I am of the opinion that each country has its own magical touch. I believe if one speaks the language it is easy to integrate in any society.

Can you describe your day job as a Settlement Counsellor? What challenges have you faced in the work place?

My work day as a Settlement Counsellor is very much based on clients’ appointments and needs. My main aim is to assist newcomers to integrate into their new community and to make them feel empowered. I think the main challenge I am facing at work place is accessibility to services to those who do not speak the official languages of Canada. Mapping of services, advocacy, and networking are priority services I provide on daily basis.

You are a Christian from Egypt, a country with a predominantly Muslim population. What was the experience like growing up as a member of a minority religious group?

Christian Egyptians strongly believe they are the children of Pharaohs. They are mostly well educated and are small in family size (four is the average of a Christian family). Christians love their land and they would always stick to it as their entire heritage including ancient churches, Coptic language, and first founded monasteries are found there.  Statistically, many Christians have either chosen or forced to leave the country leaving their families and hearts behind seeking a safer and a stabilized future.

Generally, the situation of Christians in Egypt depends on a number of issues:

  1. The political situation during a certain period in a sense that Copts (that’s how Christian Egyptians are also named) are dealt with as an electoral power. Based on the political environment Copts are sometimes pressured, other times neglected and/or isolated, or empowered. It also depends on the presidential figure and how moderate he is.
  2. It also depends on the community one is dealing with. In the more well-off communities (Catholic and International schools and institutions in Egypt for instance) Copts are well perceived. In other contexts (mainly governmental) as well as more conservative, rural, and poorer areas of the country, Copts might feel bit challenged.

Personally, I do think Copts are not systematically persecuted as such, but discriminated against and are targeted by certain radical groups. Example for political discrimination would include Copts not allowed to become Egypt’s president and judges. It is also hard for them to become ministers, university teachers and parliament members.  On a social level, Copts, especially females might be verbally or sexually harassed on the street just for the fact that they are not veiled; same applies to Muslim females who are not covered and perceived as being Christians.  Examples for being targeted by radical groups are the several recent attacks and bombings on Coptic churches and private properties in various places in Egypt. Question remains, whether government is able (in other occasions willing) to protect Christians in Egypt.

You belong to the St. George and St. Anthony Church in Ottawa. Is the church predominantly Egyptian? Apart from regular services, does the church engage in other activities such as youth fellowships and other community engagement?

The church is predominantly Egyptian indeed. We are very happy to have an Eritrean congregation as well. They are an extremely respectful, spiritual, and quiet congregation. On a personal level, I really learn a lot from them. The church has several services including Sunday school and summer camp for children, Anchors meeting for couples and families, and several activities for youths. The church is also a member at Scout Canada and we participate with our co-church St Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Nepean in an annual Egyptian festival and summer bazaar for Egyptian handmade crafts, music, and food.

You are one of a rather small number of Egyptian immigrants living in the national capital region. Do you associate with other Egyptian nationals? Do you have a formal community organization? Does your community engage in any cultural or social activities to promote and maintain your Egyptian ties?

My family and I do associate with other Egyptian nationals.  There is the Egyptian Canadian Cultural Association of Ottawa ECCAO which was incorporated in 1984 by a group of 12 Egyptian-Canadians who lived in the area, but I am actually not part of it.

Egypt appears to have changed a lot since the days of Nasser. Have you or your family been affected by the so-called “Arab spring”?

Based on testimonies I have heard and read by authors, writers, friends, and family members, Egypt has indeed changed a lot since Nasser overtook the rule post the kingdom in Egypt. As mentioned before, Egypt does change based on the presidential figure. The population growth, regional economic and industrial effect, and international political changes have all affected Egypt since the 50s.  As for my family, similar to many moderate families during the so-called “Arab Spring”, we were looking forward to the stabilization of the situation.

Do you have any hobbies or pastimes? What has been your biggest achievement and what was your biggest challenge? In your work, family life, social life, other?

One of my hobbies is travelling and I very much enjoy every trip wherever I go. I also used to play tennis and swimming continues to be my favorite sport. My biggest challenge was the decision to arrive here in Canada for family reasons, leaving behind my favorite job at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). My biggest achievement, I would love to think it is still to come.

If you had to live your life all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

Good question…. Emmm… Probably, I would have finalized my Ph.D and travelled more before getting married, I guess

Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

I am really happy to be part of Black Ottawa Scene.  Just be grateful for what you think is the little you have and enjoy life to the max.

 

 

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