Abdul: Giving Back

An ISANS Impact Story

ISANS serves over 10,000 clients every year. Some clients are with us for a month, some a year, and some, like Abdul, stay much longer.

Abdul is ISANS’ Immigrant Health and Disability Program Coordinator. He provides clients with an orientation on the Canadian healthcare system and helps connect them to healthcare resources. He was also part of the ISANS team that welcomed cohorts of refugees from Afghanistan in 2021 and 2022.

Welcoming Afghan refugees has been special work for Abdul, as he and his family came to Canada in a similar manner. “ISANS is the place where we got our life back, and I am now in a position to help others,” he says.

Abdul was born in Afghanistan, but left in the 1990s on a scholarship to attend university in India. After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he was due to start his master’s when the Afghanistan government fell and the Taliban took over. “I finished my master’s program, and the Taliban was still in power in Afghanistan. I could not return. My mom sent me a letter stating ‘don’t even think about coming back because there is no school, no life – there is nothing.’”

He applied for refugee status, and once he had his refugee certificate, he applied for resettlement to Canada. He arrived in Canada in 2001 and continued his education by studying political science at York University, after which he started working.

Years later, in 2009, he returned to visit Afghanistan to see his family. “It was at a time when Afghanistan had a new government, the Taliban was out of power, and everybody was working towards rebuilding the country. We had democracy,” says Abdul. With his education from abroad and connections with friends who had also returned, he was offered a job. Abdul started working in the government sector planning rural development projects, reforming administration of public health, and serving as senior economic and development advisor in the government at the peak of his career.

Life was good. The country’s future was looking bright, he was happy to be with his mother and siblings, and he had gotten married and started a family of his own. But after being back in Afghanistan for over ten years, he was forced to leave again. “The government fell on the 15th of August, 2021. I was blessed with a Canadian passport. I just ran to the airport.”

There was a massive crowd at the airport, and Abdul’s family – including his three young daughters – could not get in. He stayed inside the airport for two days, trying to bring his family in and get them to Canada. Abdul alone was then evacuated to the Gulf region before his immediate family joined him.

“One or two days later, on Friday morning, I opened my email, and there was a response to my children’s citizenship application that my kids are Canadian citizens, so they should be allowed to enter the airport. Then after two or three attempts, they got to the airport with the other Canadian families who were still stranded,” he says. After four or five days, the family was reunited and flown to Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately, Abdul’s mother and siblings could not join them.

While they were in Toronto, several agencies from across Canada visited the newcomers. But out of everyone he met, Abdul was struck by the humane behaviour and professional attitude of two ISANS representatives. “The way they interacted with me, I knew that they were prepared to interact with people who have seen trauma. They were very professional and kind, and they focused on the fact that I was reunited with my kids and how I got them to safety. That really gave me the motivation that I was back to safety, and I could start my life again.”

The positive impression ISANS left on Abdul led him and his family to move to Halifax. He says he and his family are happy here. One month after they arrived, Abdul was asked to join the ISANS team.

“Abdul captured our attention immediately after he arrived in Halifax in the fall of 2021,” says Vesna Mirosavljevic, ISANS’ Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) Manager. “He immediately expressed his willingness to support ISANS in any way he can. He shared with us his wealth of experience and excellent communication skills and was shortly after recruited to support a charter flight arriving in December of 2021.”

Vesna says many ISANS team members from Afghan communities have been instrumental in the overall success of the Afghan Resettlement Initiative. “Abdul exudes a positive attitude, strong work ethic, and creative approach in navigating day-to-day settlement challenges that our clients are experiencing. We have been very lucky in recruiting him as part of the Immigrant Heath team, and I believe he has potential for so much more in his career path here in Canada.”

Abdul says it is very fulfilling to help people settle here in Nova Scotia. He is pleased that the province has an expert settlement organization that provides clients with services, frameworks, and a second home. He also appreciates that ISANS truly understands that some clients experience trauma before and during their journeys to Canada. “ISANS understands what trauma is. ISANS interacts with clients and receives clients here in Nova Scotia, from a trauma-informed position,” says Abdul.

“To me, it is those initial interaction stages that make a newcomer feel welcome, and gives them a sense of hope and optimism that they have a future here, have a good future for themselves and their family members.”

“ISANS is the place where we got our life back, and I am now in a position to help others."

Abdul: Giving Back