Bringing women together is a common theme for Maryam Monsef.
Monsef is an immigrant from Afghanistan and has lived in Peterborough for 16 years. Being an immigrant provided an opportunity for her to reach out and unite with other women. She also wanted to replicate the kindness she received from strangers when her family first arrived in Canada.
This theme of bridging the divides within our community has culminated in several projects for Monsef. She is the Outreach Coordinator at The Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, which is an organization that fosters community philanthropy. Monsef is also a board member with the YWCA and works with the Peterborough Partnership Council on Immigration Integration (PPCII).
One of her favourite projects is the Red Pashmina Campaign. Funds are raised by selling red pashminas (scarves). The first campaign raised money for Projects for Education, Advocacy, Relief and Literacy, using proceeds to build a maternity hospital in Afghanistan. The second phase of the campaign, which raises funds for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, particularly excites Monsef.
The women behind the Red Pashmina Campaign are former Trent students who are still in their youth, and Monsef sees value in working with the older women who are part of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. This partnership bridges divides on several levels: a generational gap, a geographical divide, and differences between cultures.
As for Peterborough itself, she’s seen both positive and negative developments for women and immigrants during her 16 years in the community. Originally, she says, there were a lot of entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and other countries but the city was not able to sustain an environment of economic growth for these businesses. A lot of immigrants left Peterborough for other cities as a result.
However, that there has been a new effort in Peterborough to attract and retain immigrants. There are now several organizations that offer services for new immigrants, including PPCII. As well, both Trent and Fleming have refocused their recruitment of international students. Private businesses, too, are seeing the value in hiring foreign trained professionals.
Monsef speaks positively of her experience working in Peterborough and especially of working with other women. She has witnessed many symbiotic relationships between organizations and the will to give even when people have little to offer. She describes this generosity and perseverance as the most beautiful part of humanity as “the essence of Canadian culture.”