In the final post of this blog set featuring speeches by Top 30s presented at our Magazine Launch at Bow Valley College in Calgary, 2016 Top 30 Fartoon Siad shares how her own family’s experience has informed her journey becoming a community engaged public health researcher working with immigrant and refugee populations. Drawing on experiences since becoming a Top 30 a year ago, she offers points of reflection for cultivating a critical and responsive approach to community engagement.
Nothing About Us Without Us
Four different-sized pink beads on a string attached to a keychain are handed out to a class of immigrant women. Some curiously examine them trying to decode their meaning, while others jokingly request another one, pretending to make a pair of fashionable earrings. The tiniest bead represents a cancerous lump that can only be detected by a mammogram. Breast cancer found at this early stage is the most treatable. Women of ethnocultural backgrounds remain a minority in breast cancer screening practices. Many ethnic women find out they have the disease at later stages when it is sometimes too late. I found myself in that classroom almost three years ago as a community health educator for the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association Breast Health Initiative for Newcomers.
Here, as ambassadors to our respective communities, we learn to deliver education sessions using the train-the-trainer model of community engagement. Little did I know, that experience would lead me towards a career in health education and disease prevention for vulnerable populations.
Good evening guests, friends, families, and the 2017 cohort of Top 30 Under 30s.
My name is Fartoon Siad and I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia during the civil war. My family came to Canada as refugees in the early 90s after being sponsored by my uncle. I was 6 months-old at the time and have lived in Calgary ever since. I have always been interested in understanding the experiences of people on the move. More specifically, those fleeing violence, persecution, and seeking a better life. After all, that was the story of my own family.
Many refugee families come to Canada with hopes and dreams for their children, families, and themselves, sacrificing for that better life. Often times, their mental, emotional, and physical health are impacted by their journey. Migration has widespread impacts on the health of newcomers and can influence whether or not they successfully integrate.
This drove me to pursue my Master’s degree in Population and Public Health in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. My thesis aimed to document the healthcare experiences of East African immigrant women with gestational diabetes. I wanted to keep building and developing my community, research, and advocacy toolkit. From organizing a type 2 diabetes education workshop for Calgary’s East African community to co-facilitating an intercultural cooking workshop at the Women’s Centre of Calgary, I have worked with individuals from all walks of life and at the intersection of several social determinants of health. As a health educator, advocate, and peer support volunteer, I have helped build local capacity and create meaningful engagement opportunities with vulnerable populations aiming to alleviate poverty.
I am a firm believer of ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us,’ including individuals and communities with lived experiences in decision-making processes, in research, and in all endeavors. Sustainability is about connection. It is about acknowledging that people are the experts of their own lives. It is about truly paying attention to the needs of communities and implementing ideas and projects their way.
How then, can we parachute into contexts we don’t know, participating in activities like voluntourism that, while well-intentioned, misalign with the very nature of meaningful community engagement? There is absolutely a way to make an international impact at a local level. Thinking globally, acting locally.
Recently, I competed in the Hult Prize, an international business competition that brings together university students from around the globe to focus on solving a key global social challenge. The objective was to build sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that doubles the income of 10 million people residing in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services and capital. My team’s solution was community-based micro insurance, similar to microloans but for health and agricultural events impacting the lives of those in poverty.
Our solution aimed to create financial inclusion, reducing risk and empowering the world’s poorest people to double their income by addressing the underlying systems that are keeping them in poverty. My team placed 2nd in the Dubai regional competition, were shortlisted for global finals, and we are now planning our pilot phase of the project in Tanzania. A critical reason why we were successful was that our solution included a community engagement plan, co-developed with local communities and organizations.
I leverage these extracurricular and community experiences, my educational journey, learning from those around me, to personally and professionally grow. After all these experiences shaped me into the person I am today. I am able to use this platform to contribute to the building of resiliency, self-sufficiency, and better health of those I work and interact with every day.
So what happens to your life after being a Top 30 Under 30 you ask? In short, the same as what happened before you became a Top 30 Under 30! Except that now you take a critical lens to everything you do, what works and does not, and improve. You are involved in an iterative process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. You engage in meaningful community engagement, whether locally, nationally, or internationally. Nothing About Us, Without Us.
While we are all honored and humbled to be a part of this amazing group of hardworking and inspiring individuals, we don’t do this work for the recognition. I look forward to following along on your many successes and am confident you will continue to make positive and meaningful contributions to our community and the world.
Read Fartoon’s Top 30 story and the entire magazine here.