A Pearl in Our Community — Jumana Alsabah—by Yasmeen Al Momani
The word “jumana” means “pearl” in Arabic. A pearl is a beautiful gem that is formed in the ocean in response to a change in the state of an oyster’s environment. This process takes years, and the resulting jewel is an iridescent pearl that shines brightly and is coveted by many people as it is a source of happiness and a symbol of wisdom. This meaning of Jumana Alsabah’s name is important because the process that an oyster goes through to form a precious pearl embodies the experiences that Jumana has undergone in her journey, which has produced the wise, caring and supportive person that she is today.
Jumana is Palestinian and she was born and grew up in Syria with her lovely family and many friends. She studied architectural engineering and had a very successful life working as a manager in this career for 15 years. In 2007, she immigrated to Canada with her husband and three children so that they could work as engineers here, leaving behind everything she knew.
The experience of moving to a new country is a difficult journey for those who undertake it, and when Jumana made this trip with her family, she faced many unexpected challenges. Everything was different and she knew that she had to once again learn many things from the beginning. This included pursuing education, which was not something that she had anticipated as she had already studied and worked throughout her early life to reach a high standard of success in architecture. In addition, there were clear differences in the environment here, such as the culture, work and language. Recalling the success and knowledge that she had before coming to Canada made Jumana feel as though she had made a 180-degree turn in life, and the terrifying realization that she had to start from zero led to overwhelming feelings that reduced Jumana to tears.
Despite her expertise in architecture, she had to pursue a different career path and so she acquired an Information Technology diploma at Conestoga College, in a program in which only 16 women were accepted (she was, impressively, one of them). She followed this by studying estimating engineering at the college as well. She also began working at Al Huda school during this time, striving to spread her wings within the community.
After studying and working, Jumana underwent surgery that left her recovering for some time due to some unfortunate side effects. Her hope and resiliency helped her overcome this operation and she was back to seeking more opportunities within the local communities in no time. This experience taught Jumana that life is short and that she wants to continue spending her life being a good person and helping others for her own self-fulfillment.
It was after this experience that she connected with the Coalition of Muslim Women (CMW), which was truly a life-changing meeting. Jumana started working as the Volunteer Coordinator in the Coalition, which involved a tremendous amount of work given that they had over 108 volunteers that she had to monitor and keep track of at meetings and events. Jumana has participated in all of the events that have happened during her time at the CMW, including the June event, the annual Radiant Ladies Gala, the Women Who Inspire Awards Ceremonies, the Taste of Ramadan dinners, the Oktoberfest Rogers Women of the Year Award Ceremony and the Together Against Islamophobia program.
Jumana distinctly remembers the June event that was held at City Hall that had a great turnout and a lot of positive feedback from those who attended. She supervised all of the volunteers for this event and watched as everyone put their hearts into their work so the event could run perfectly. The amazing projects she was involved in left her feeling accomplished and grateful to those around her. Jumana’s youngest daughter, Tala, would accompany her to events and meetings and everyone came to know her as “the youngest member in the Coalition,” portraying how Jumana’s dedication to the CMW made her a role model for her daughter. Jumana is still an active member in the CMW as the treasurer on the board.
Jumana has learned a great deal from the women in the Coalition and she continues to share her wisdom and talents, which allows others to learn from her as well. The CMW has contributed to the development and enhancement of her skills, as well as greatly boosting her confidence. She learned how to connect with people in the community, met wonderful people and found a second home with the women who treat each other with love and respect (values that Jumana appreciates in her life). Overall, the CMW was crucial in forming a foundation and opening the door for Jumana to understand the new culture in a way where she is able to support people within the community. The CMW is a network of deep support and care, and Jumana knows that the women in the organization will always be there for her and she will always be there for them. They foster an inclusive and considerate environment loved and admired by all involved.
The work she does is very important for the city because it ensures that Muslim women are valued and empowered while connecting them to the larger community and also providing opportunities for them. As someone who had experienced what it was like to be on the “outside” of the larger community when she moved here, she was providing reparation to her past self just as much as she was providing assistance for other Muslim women by being a member of the Coalition. It was this mindset that launched the formation of the Canadian Arab Women Association (CAWA), an initiative co-founded by Jumana and her friends for inclusion of Arab women specifically. The women on the team had each endured a variety of hardships upon immigrating to Canada in the past, and they channelled these emotions into starting an organization that mitigates these challenges for Arab newcomers today. CAWA provides a safe environment for these new immigrants to seek support and the resources they need. Jumana’s initial immigration experience was an exhausting ordeal, and she did not have an organization that provided her with the support she needed as a newcomer at that time in the Arab community. The adversity she faced motivated her to form the association so that no one else would ever experience what she (and the rest of her team) had.
CAWA offers many programs, such as translation for immigrants, and events for women to feel included in the community, such as drinking coffee together and talking. Drinking coffee is deep-rooted in Arabic culture and is a comforting tradition for Arab women, so having somewhere in this community where they can do that among other Arab women is reassuring. Thus, CAWA benefits the community greatly by being an environment for Arab women and newcomers to turn to for traditional social activities. Jumana has a lot of love for the women in the association, what they have built together and the work they have done for the city.
Pearls are known to have positive healing properties, as some people associate wearing pearls with carrying positive energy. Similarly, Jumana has brought positivity and healing to many as she works to provide aid and help for Muslim, Arab and immigrant communities by working in the CMW and CAWA. She epitomizes the power of a pearl’s radiant positive energy, which is evident in her work.
The effort that Jumana put into the community is evident not only in the successful events she has personally worked on, but also to the type of person that she is. Jumana is by nature a very loveable person, she loves socializing with people and is eager to build bridges within the community and help those around her. She is very family-oriented and enjoys spending quality time with her children and her parents who also reside in the city. The happiest moment in her life was when she became a grandma to a beautiful grandson named Salah. This was a recent addition to Jumana’s family and seeing the bright, ethereal light of the next generation in his eyes was the best feeling she had ever experienced. Salah is very precious to Jumana and a big part of her heart. Jumana now works at Maple Grove school as she continues spending time with her family and her volunteer work in the community.
A change in the environment of an oyster causes a lustrous pearl to grow through a long process until it is a gem that symbolizes wisdom, success and positivity. Jumana is a beautiful embodiment of her name and she lives up to its powerful meaning. The change in her environment from Syria to Canada was very difficult and her experiences during this journey provided her with the desire to help others. She has, remarkably, formed herself into a true gem that shines through our community to spread joy and healing to others. Just like how a pearl is a gemstone that is precious to the ocean and sought by many, Jumana is precious to this community and admired by the many people to whom she has provided aid and touched through her work.