In conversation with Rabah Musa, Operations Manager Nisa Homes Ottawa

Rabah Musa

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?

My childhood was very unstable. I was a sibling to three sisters and one brother all born in Sudan. I grew up in an environment where abuse was dealt with behind closed doors and members of the community knew. It was not until my family immigrated to Canada that my mother was able to seek help and support to start a life without abuse. This shaped a great deal of my employment trajectory in the last three years.  

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

My father worked at a sugar factory with a group of foreigners that were forced out of Sudan as part of the new regime. He fled first and then sent for us and we arrived in Toronto in January 1994.

After my mother decided to free herself from my father’s abuse, she decided to move us to Ottawa in order to start a new life.

What is your educational background?

I have completed my Bachelor’s degree with Honors in psychology. I have also completed a double major in women and religious studies at the University of Ottawa. After working for ten years, I went back for my Master’s in Counselling Psychology. I am currently a registered psychotherapist.

Can you describe your full-time job as Operations Manager, Nisa Homes Ottawa?

As the city operations manager of Nisa Homes, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the housing programs: case management, managing the operations budget, managing the resource planning, training and development for housing staff, and ensuring all health safety requirements are effectively maintained. My main role in the shelter is to execute the strategic direction of Nisa Homes under the supervision of the National Manager.

Who is eligible to be accepted into your shelter? Can any woman in an abusive relationship just call and be accepted?

Nisa Homes is a safe haven and support service for women and their children who are experiencing domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, or seeking asylum. We aspire to help all women who reach out to Nisa homes.

From your experience, why do so many women remain in abusive relationships instead of just walking away?

There are many factors that influence a women’s decision to leave or stay in an abusive relationship. Every situation is unique and there is a great deal of research done to examine the reasons why women stay in abusive relationships. It is our job to provide the support women need when they finally make the decision to leave.

Are Black women more at risk of abuse or homelessness than the rest of the population or are the risks about the same? What about Muslim women, what are their risks of being in abusive relationships compared to the general population?

Drawing from my experience working with women in the emergency shelters and domestic violence settings, I can clearly say that the numbers of women who are Black and/or Muslim are growing. Nisa Homes Ottawa location specifically is almost always full.

Due to current Covid-19 circumstances Black women are more likely to experience discrimination at the workplace (hiring process) and will face difficulty finding a home (landlord discrimination).

When it comes to Muslim women it is very clear that due to a lack of cultural competency (new immigrants for example) I find them more vulnerable compared to the general population. Most of the Muslim clients require support when it comes to accessing services in the community.

It would appear many women in abusive relationships are afraid to leave their spouses? What advice would you give them? Where can they get culturally appropriate help?

To those women I say, you are strong, capable, worthy, and deserve more. There are agencies such as Nisa Homes that are designed to support you when you are ready to take the step of leaving. If you are in immediate danger you need to call 9/1/1. If you are looking for an emergency shelter please call 3/1/1. If you are looking for support that is designed to assist you within your cultural context contact Nisa homes through the website, email, and or phone.

How do Nisa homes differ from other shelters in the city of Ottawa?

Nisa Homes supports women and children fleeing abuse and or experiencing homelessness. The Nisa home program is designed to honor and acknowledge and support the women’s cultural background. Nisa homes provide shelter, basic needs, financial assistance, mental health support, casework, childcare, and much more. The Nisa homes program does not end when the women leave the shelter but follows the women until she and her children are well integrated into the society.

You had lived in shelters in your younger years. How does that experience shape your approach to your job?

How I approach my current role at Nisa Homes is very much shaped by my experience in the shelter system as a child. From day one, the Nisa Homes program seeks to connect the women and community to their community (with consent). The childcare program is trauma-informed and designed to help the mother and the children cope with all the changes and process the trauma. The culturally and trauma-informed mental health program is available to support the family as they go through their journey to rebuild their life.

There are many cultural community organizations representing different national and ethnic communities from Africa and the Caribbean in the national capital. Do you see them playing any role in preventing spousal abuse or homelessness among their people, and supporting those who are victims of domestic violence?

My personal opinion is that all organizations have the responsibility of providing education around spousal abuse, homelessness, and resources women and men can use when there is domestic violence. Cultural community organizations need to be able to connect with one another and easily refer to each which will help support the overall African and Caribbean community in the national capital.

You were born in Sudan. Have you kept up to date with events in your home country and the rest of the African continent? What are your views on the state of the continent: politically, socially, and economically? Do you think Canada should be doing more to assist those countries in the developing world?

To be honest, I have not been keeping up with the current political climate in Sudan. My family in Sudan has shared some of the difficulties the Sudanese citizens are currently facing. I was very proud of my people when they stood up to an oppressive regime. I personally think that individuals in the North American diaspora have more of a responsibility to advocate in Canada and/or give back to their own country of origin in some way.

What has been your biggest achievement and what was your biggest challenge? In your work, family life, volunteer work?

My biggest achievement is completing my master’s while caring for two young kids under the age of 8years old, and at the same time working two full-time jobs. My biggest challenge continues to be achieving personal growth in all areas of my life.

Looking at Ottawa’s black community, what do you see as our biggest challenges? Crime, unemployment, school dropouts, other?  How do we overcome them?

The black community in Ottawa is very diverse and our biggest challenge is coming together and utilizing all the amazing talent we can offer. Therefore, we need to come together and help support each other by acknowledging our achievements and addressing our shortcomings.

In the years since you’ve been in Canada, have you seen the situation of Blacks as changed for the better: more access to jobs, social inclusion etc.

There has been a difference in terms of how the Black community has evolved since I have first come to Canada. Many of us have identified areas of need and went on to address them, like Nisa homes.

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

Thank you so much for providing me with the space to share my story. I am very honored to be interviewed and keep up the great work. Please reach out to Nisa homes to connect and work together as a community.

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