Finding Your Own Path — Safa Qoussini—by Seemab Zahra
Safa (صَفَا) is an Arabic name meaning purity, clarity, fineness, and fairness. And this perfectly describes Safa Qoussini — a woman who takes pride in her work and her connection with everyone around her. A remarkable lady who is striving to change the perception about Arab women, while breaking all the stereotypes: she is making history. A daughter of four seasons who decided to migrate and live on the banks of the Great Lakes. No matter how cold the Great Lakes are, Safa brings enough warmth to make everyone around her feel it.
Usually, when people hear about Arab women, they do not expect them to be professionals working in industries, owning businesses, and achieving higher education. But Safa showed her mettle in all of these. She grew up in Jordan and after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, she started working as a wastewater treatment engineer. Soon after starting her first job, Safa got married and moved to the Sultanate of Oman to join her husband. The next couple of years went by, with Safa and her husband reaping the blessings of marriage and bearing two lovely daughters. Motherhood kept Safa busy, but she always kept an eye on job opportunities, and she took some part-time jobs.
She started looking for a job in the Chemical Engineering industry, but didn’t have any luck at the time. However, Safa did not give up; instead, she took up a job in teaching and started delivering lectures on Foundation Science at a college. Sometimes fate takes us where we have never thought of going, and we find the path that leads us to our destination. While Safa was teaching Foundation Science, another colleague who was teaching Environmental Health and Safety had to go on leave and Safa was offered the opportunity to teach that course. The course was a success, and that is when Safa discovered her interest in Occupational Safety. Later on, she took a certification in Occupational Health and Safety to upgrade her skills. After finishing that certification, Safa also took a Master’s degree in Environmental Health and Safety in 2005.
Just when Safa thought that she was all set and ready to utilize her upgraded education, she had to move to Saudi Arabia to join her husband once again. In Saudi Arabia, Safa met new challenges in her life. Even with her Master’s degree, she was unable to find a job because engineering jobs for females in Saudi Arabia were still limited at that time. Safa, as always, started thinking of alternate ways to seek her professional goals. She took a job in office management in a trading and contracting company at the end of 2006. The management of the company soon realized Safa’s expertise in business and engineering and started having Safa help with business issues. She would write quotations, discuss deals, and attend business meetings. Later, she was on appointed as a business development manager.
Safa was still working at the trading company when she was offered a teaching job at the Arab Open University, which is the Arab side of the University of London. Due to her vast knowledge in chemical engineering and business, Safa was offered the job of teaching Environmental Studies, Business Administration and Management. She continued teaching at the Arab Open University for the next five years. As Safa was an expert in various genres of safety such as environmental, industrial, domestic, and food safety, she wanted to do more than just teach at an educational institution. Therefore, she started educating families and women voluntarily about safety at home and general safety topics. She proposed her plan to the Civil Defense, but it was rejected due to a lack of infrastructure to support a female safety instructor. Safa did not lose hope and resubmitted her proposal to the Border Guards — Ministry of Interior. Border Guards approved her project and established a Formal Beach Safety committee in 2008. This committee functioned under the supervision of a Royal Princess. After the establishment of this committee, there was a visible decrease in the number of incidents at the beach.
In Saudi Arabia, Safa reached a point in her career that Arab women only dream of achieving. She was accomplishing her career goals one after the other, but then her husband decided to move to Canada. Safa and her husband had big dreams for their children, and they wanted them to be able to get higher education from some of the finest academic institutions in the world.
Safa came directly to the Waterloo Region. Right after arriving, Safa met a very kind woman named Sharon during a mentorship program meeting. Sharon connected Safa with an organization — the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener-Waterloo (CMW)
Safa joined the CMW right away. She volunteered for almost all of the events, and even before becoming a member of the CMW, Safa won everyone’s heart with her welcoming nature. While Safa was volunteering for the events, she got a chance to meet many leaders in the community. She felt like she was back home, being in the limelight, volunteering, meeting important people. Safa was proud of herself, as were her family and friends back home who were also gratified that with her resilience and belief in herself, she was able to achieve the same goals in a new country that she had back home. Safa managed to create the same magic in Canada. Some of her friends say that wherever Safa goes, she blossoms like a flower.
Tea and Tales is an ongoing project organized by the CMW that takes place at various churches, community centres, and sometimes at the City Hall. Safa is an integral part of Tea and Tales. She uses her creative energy to make Tea and Tales a memorable event for all the participants, going above and beyond with her beautiful table setup, Arabic Qahwa, and Arabic artifacts. Through this event, the CMW encourages the larger community to come and learn about Muslim women, their diverse cultures with a cup of traditional tea or coffee, and cultural treats.
One of Safa’s the most outstanding contributions was helping the Coalition in spreading awareness about Islamophobia, supporting her fellow members of CMW at the Anti-Racism Directorate Conversation in Kitchener, and at a vigil for the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting at Kitchener City Hall.
She also participated in planning a presentation of another event called Break the Fast with Muslim Women. This event is a multicultural “iftar” (evening meal for breaking fast during Ramadan), which was inaugurated in 2017 and continues to take place every year. This event was later called Tastes of Ramadan. For this event, the CMW invites members from the larger community to gather for an iftar and enjoy a diverse range of cultural delicacies. Safa has supported this event in every possible way: arranging food, donation, setting up tables, and hosting the iftar table. This event not only represents Ramadan traditions from various Muslim cultures around the world and explains the importance of Ramadan in the lives of people of Muslim faith, but also highlights the evolving Ramadan culture in Canada that is innovating new ways to celebrate this holy month.
Safa believes in giving, whether it is her time or money. She has been an ambassador for a Ramadan campaign by the CMW, which is inspired by the spirit of Ramadan. This campaign enables the community to unite and fight against hunger irrespective of faith and ethnicity during the 30 days of Ramadan by supporting the local food banks of Waterloo region. Safa has been volunteering her time and money for the Give 30 campaign since 2017, and she shares her experience to motivate her friends to become a part of this campaign.
Safa does not want her passion of giving to end here. She has already cultivated the seeds of compassion in her four children — Alaullah, Duaa, AbdulRahman, and Rayan. Her children are very independent just like Safa. They are working and studying at the same time. They are already following Safa’s path by frequently volunteering for various events organized by the Coalition. AbdulRahman and Rayan participated as student panel speakers at an iftar event organized by the CMW for the Waterloo Region District School Board leaders. Safa’s children have also co-hosted a table with their mother for Break the Fast with Muslim women that was held at Victoria Park Kitchener. Safa’s children also volunteer for the Salam Canada Campaign. Salam Canada is a campaign initiated by the CMW to increase communication and bridge resources between the Muslim community and the larger community. The word “Salam” means peace in Arabic, and the main idea of this campaign is to spread the message of love and peace. As a part of this campaign, Safa and her children work together along with other volunteers to make handmade cookies. These cookies are made at community centres and then hand-packed along with a little message of peace, which are distributed at various events organized by the Coalition. Safa and her children are also part of the distribution team. Apart from that, Rayan — Safa’s son — also grew his hair long to donate it to a non-profit organization that makes wigs for patients who lose their hair due to medical conditions.
Besides all of this volunteer work, Safa also served as an interim board member in 2019 and has taken part in other events organized by the CMW since 2015, such as Muslim Women Radiant Night, The Women Who Inspire recognition awards — an annual event to recognize Muslim women and Leadership Training Programs.
Safa’s husband lives in Saudi Arabia, but he supports and appreciates her work in every possible way. Whenever he is in Canada, he joins Safa for events. In 2016, Safa and her husband hosted a table at an event called Meet the Men Who Stand Beside Us. At this event, the community was invited to meet Muslim women and their families and ask questions about how their family, and mainly their husbands, support them. When Safa’s husband is away, he joins her events through online meeting tools.
Besides offering her tremendous volunteering efforts for the CMW, Safa also volunteers for several Arab organizations. One of them is Arab Women of Waterloo Region. Safa leads a workshop on personal growth and development. During this pandemic, Safa went far and beyond to motivate the Arab women by organizing an online program called “Saat Safa Maa Safa,” which means “One Hour of Clarity with Safa.” Through this initiative, Safa wanted to keep her fellow Arab women motivated with sessions on social and emotional intelligence, personal development, dealing with difficult situations, friendship, and relationships.
Safa is very proud of her name, which means clarity. She believes that her name gives her energy. She also believes in happiness and giving. She is an open-hearted person who derives energy from the people around her and by making them strong. She does not only think of herself, but also wants her fellow Arab women to be strong like her. Safa arranges sessions for them, talks to them, listens to them, motivates them, and helps them in every possible way.
Apart from her volunteer work, Safa has also found her own career path. She works as a safety consultant with a safety consultancy company and also teaches at Conestoga College.
Safa has immense compassion and sympathy for newcomers to Canada. In 2017 she was a speaker at the Global Skill Conference organized by the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre. This conference was organized for newcomers and internationally trained people to learn more about the Canadian employment system. From 2016 to 2017, Safa — with the help of a former employer — organized and coordinated a Newcomer’s Labour and Safety Forum. One hundred and sixty Syrian and non-Syrian newcomers, politicians from Waterloo Region, and the Minister of Immigration, John McCallum, attended that forum. The forum was designed to raise awareness about employment standards, wages, occupational health and safety rights, and the duties of workers according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Apart from those activities, Safa also serves as a volunteer for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, an educational partner with the Ministry of Labour. She serves as a facilitator for health and safety awareness for co-op students, young, and new workers.
For the last five years, Safa has been taking care of her home, children, and everything else on her own, while her husband is pursuing his career and working hard to support the family back in Canada. It is his immense love and care for Safa that drives her to accomplish so much while being “seven seas” apart. Safa misses her husband a great deal, but at the same time she keeps in mind her commitments as a mother and as a giving community member.
Safa applies a safety rule to life: Stop, Think, and Act. She believes that if we want to achieve something in life, then we need to value our time, focus on planning our goals, and act upon them. She believes in finding her path and making decisions by herself. She wants women to stop waiting for others to decide for them, make their own decisions, and act for themselves without wasting time. Safa believes in the idea that if you don’t draw your own path, someone else will plan it for you; so, take charge, pick up the brush, and paint your life just the way you want it to be.