A Home Away from Home — Nermin Ozdemir—by Yasmeen Al Momani
Nermin Ozdemir has a heart full of love: love for her family, love for helping others, and love for the Coalition of Muslim Women (CMW). She has pursued a successful life for herself and her family, in addition to dedicating time to volunteering and helping others, with the goal of inspiring hope in the hearts of others, just as it had been stoked in her own heart through her work with the CMW.
Nermin grew up and lived in the beautiful country of Turkey, where she was surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. When she first moved to Canada at the age of 26, she felt a painful culture gap; she had come from a warm, friendly place she called home to a foreign, cold space where her soul did not feel like it fit in. It was as if Nermin had left her heart back in Turkey. She missed the high spirits of the people back home and the cohesive sincere community that seemed absent here. She longed for a life where she could drop her children at school and drink hot Turkish coffee in the morning with her neighbours who understood her and cared about her. The absence of social connectivity in Canada was very real, as it contrasted starkly with what she had experienced prior to moving here. This challenge took a toll on Nermin’s happiness and she felt that life in Canada was dull and lonely. Most of all, her heart ached when she thought of her children who would not grow up with the liveliness and warmth of a close community, which she had appreciated greatly while growing up in Turkey.
Nermin also had to face and overcome the hardship of discrimination that is familiar to many immigrant and Muslim women in Western countries. She felt estranged and alienated from the community here. She felt even if people did hear her, they did not truly understand her. She became unsure of how to accomplish her goals and could not find work in this new place. These feelings combined with the lack of social support caused her self-esteem to decline, leaving her feeling forgotten.
This feeling would continue for quite some time, until she came in contact with the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre at which point everything in this new city changed for the better. Nermin’s first volunteer work was as a community health worker with an ethnic background in the city. This volunteer work gave her satisfaction and connected her to other inspiring immigrant women who could relate to her and who also eventually became her friends. She connected with a mentor at the Health Centre and became a member of the CMW, which was like her first “home” in the city. Nermin contributed to CMW projects and participated in training sessions at the Coalition, which helped her gain confidence. This aided her growth and development as she had constant support and encouragement from her newfound friends. As these women and this work came into her life, it bloomed like a flower in terms of the social connection she felt to the city and its people. Her self-esteem, which had wilted before, began to swell again and she felt uplifted by all of the people in her life who understood and appreciated her. These networks helped her grow and flourish as a woman.
Among Nermin’s notable work with the Coalition are Tea and Tales, Break the Fast with Muslim Women, Tastes of Ramadan, A Day of Dialogue with Muslim Women, and Muslim Women Through a Diverse Lens — Windows to the Glorious Past. At this last event, she had to complete a monologue about Sabiha Gökçen, the world’s first female combat pilot. Despite her introverted nature and the overwhelming feeling of nervousness that overtook her, Nermin felt that the people who trusted her and had faith in her to deliver the monologue believed in her; this empowered her and boosted her to successfully present the monologue. As recognition for all of the hard work that she had dedicated and completed at the CMW, Nermin was nominated for and became the recipient of the CMW “Muslim Women Who Inspire Award” in 2019, a well-deserved award after the devotion and commitment she had instilled in others at the Coalition.
The support that Nermin received from the women in the community was part of the reason that she believed in herself and worked hard to pursue further education. She firmly believes that there are no limitations on what someone can achieve: people can do anything. If you try your best, anything is possible. It was through this outlook, her resilient nature, and the supportive people in her life that pushed Nermin to work hard and achieve a master’s degree alongside raising two children and working a part-time job.
Along with the change that the Coalition has brought into her life, Nermin has also brought change into the CMW and the community through her work and positive personality. She shares a lot with the women in the Coalition and they all learn and grow from their interactions with her. She is supportive and encouraging; she is an essential part of the Coalition because she inspires other women just as they inspire her. She is a truly wonderful person who forms beautiful connections with people. When one of Nermin’s closest friends was asked her opinion of Nermin, she said: “Nermin is my soul sister. We may not be related by blood, but we have a bond that transcends time, space, and distance. She is my home away from home, my biggest support, my ally, my critic, my joy, my best friend. If I could wish good on anyone, it would be to wish them a friend like Nermin.” It is clear through these words the astounding impact that Nermin has on other people.
Within the larger community, she has a vision of helping and advocating for newcomers so that they do not experience the adversities that she did, while bringing awareness to these hardships as well. The events that she organizes and works on are vital in our society because they change people’s perspectives of immigrant and Muslim women and help remove the stigma associated with them. Nermin’s work can be described as laying down bricks and building a bridge with the larger community to show them that despite our differences, we are all human regardless of where we come from. Nermin is passionate about spreading this message to everyone.
Despite the hardships and the challenges that Nermin faced when she came to Canada, meeting the women in the CMW planted a seed within her, equipping her with the knowledge that she is worthy of having dreams and striving for more. She has a lot of gratitude for the Coalition because the women in the organization changed her life and helped her build a home in a place where she did not foresee having one.
Nermin now works as a social worker in the community. The hardships that she experienced upon arriving here guided her to choose this profession where she could directly impact the lives of other people for the better. She is a family outreach worker where she guides low-income families and newcomers through their struggles and helps them navigate the system. She supports families and helps them to feel included and connected with the community.
When she is not working or volunteering, Nermin spends her time with her husband and her two kids. She enjoys the summertime and going on long walks or hikes with her family to get coffee. One thing that she loves to do with her husband is visit the Kitchener Farmers’ Market every Saturday. The vegetables and goods that they sell and the atmosphere at the market make her feel nostalgic and connects her with her culture because of the similar street markets in Turkish neighbourhoods. This similarity keeps a connection between her current community and her past one, helping her feel grounded with a sense of home. The abundance of ethnic stores that have recently surfaced in the community have also helped to make her feel as if she were roaming the shops in Turkey. Her full-time job, her family, her friends, the CMW, and the roots she has been able to preserve from home have given Nermin a welcoming feeling and sense that she finally belongs here.
When Nermin thinks about the most beautiful thing in her life, her children are the first thing that comes to her mind. She sees them as her friends and companions for life, and as an escape from the hardships of life as she raised them to be wonderful and caring people. Her son, Basar, is always there to support her, and he encourages her to work out at the gym, while she encourages him to do the same. Her daughter, Eylul, is still young, and she loves to cook and have “spa days” with Nermin when she senses that her mom is feeling sad. She is a kind girl, full of compassion much like her mother. Nermin loves having time to focus on her children and she is sure that they will always be there for her in the future. Nermin’s appreciation and thankfulness for her children are reciprocated in kind by them and she remembers when her son told her, “Mommy, I’m really happy that you are my mom, and if I come back to the world and choose someone else to be my mom, I would still choose you.” She loves to celebrate the joys of life with her children and they are the dearest thing in her life.
As people, we are always limiting ourselves and underestimating our capabilities. Having people to support us to realize our dreams helps us thrive despite facing challenges. For Nermin, these people are her admirable family and the women at the Coalition. The people in the CMW and in the local community touched her heart and she continues to do the same for others through her dedication and inspiring compassion.