An Educational Boost

Dr. Maria Eriksen’s legacy is helping immigrant women contribute to Canada.

For Dr. Maria Eriksen, seeing educated immigrant women unable to work in their fields in Canada was a tragedy, not just for the women themselves but for Canada.

Eriksen, who died in 2008, was a Calgary psychologist and women’s rights advocate. She was the founding chair of the Immigrant Access Fund Society of Alberta, which offers foreign-educated professionals loans to pursue Canadian accreditation.

“Maria was very troubled by the fact that we bring the brightest and the most experienced immigrants to Canada and they end up working as cleaners, taxi drivers and security guards,” says her friend Amal Umar, a former Calgary Foundation board member and past chair of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association.

After Eriksen’s death, Every Woman Can: the Maria Eriksen Memorial Bursary was created in her memory to continue the work she believed in. The Calgary Foundation manages and awards four $2,000 bursaries each year to immigrant women living in Alberta who are pursuing post-secondary education to further their professional development.

Johara Omer is teaching her sons the greatest lesson she can by going back to school herself.

“Education is really important — not just for women, but also for bringing up the next generation,” says the 37-year-old single mom. “I’m glad I’m in this position to motivate my kids.”

Omer is currently in her third semester of practical nursing studies at Bow Valley College, pursuing her dream of helping others while providing for her family.

“By having a better job, I will be able to fulfill their needs,” Omer says of her sons, aged eight and five. “That will give them self-esteem. They’ll have a better dream for themselves.”

Juggling a full-time course load and motherhood is not easy. But another challenge that Omer faces is that she’s an immigrant, having moved to Canada from Ethiopia. Statistically, immigrants face an above-average unemployment rate and earn less than their Canadian-born and -educated counterparts.

Omer says without the bursary she wouldn’t have been able to afford her third semester of schooling; she would’ve had to take an indefinite break from her studies.

“It is pushing me forward toward my career dream,” she says.

Nimra Amjad, 30, is equally grateful. The Every Woman Can bursary is helping her to transition her knowledge, expertise and passion for environmental policy into a meaningful career in Canada.

In her native Pakistan, Amjad worked with a non-profit women’s rights group, and also consulted with organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Bank. Now a full-time Mount Royal University student, she will complete her Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Environmental Science this year.

“The degree has helped me make my previous experience relevant to the industry here, learn about the energy sector in Alberta and network with employers,” Amjad says.

The Every Woman Can Bursary benefits immigrant women and enables them to make positive contributions to their adopted country.

“There are many highly skilled immigrant women who add diversity and expertise to the workforce, but they need this kind of help to transition to working in Canada,” she says. “It makes me proud to be part of a country that wants to welcome my skill set and diversity, and that there is support to help me pursue my dreams.”

-Article first published in the Spring 2016 edition of spur magazine.