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Note: This story was written by our Manager of Employment Services, Bashir Shahbaz. We have also replaced some names to provide our clients’ privacy. 

“Working is life. It makes you feel like you have a life.”

“When I didn’t work, I felt like I didn’t have a life.”

That’s how Akilah responded when asked how it feels to have a job here in Waterloo Region.

The young woman came to Canada as a refugee in 2016, and began attending English language classes, as she was eager to find a job. Soon after, she learned about Reception House’s Working Together Employment Project from her brother, who was already actively involved. She never had a job previously, so she was excited by the opportunity for meaningful employment while also strengthening her English language skills. 

Akilah met with Reception House and began working on pre-employment support. She says Reception House helped connect her with employment services in her community, which were helpful for preparing her for stable employment. 

From there, she began working at JD Sweid Foods, who have partnered with Reception House to hire newcomers at their manufacturing plant in Waterloo. 

Now, she has graduated from 6-months of on-site language classes and continues to work at JD Sweid Foods. Although the program has had multiple benefits for her, her continued success in the workplace has often come from her own determination and work ethic; She is a hard worker and consistently takes initiative at work. 

This is echoed by the team at JD Sweid Foods, who note that Akilah comes into work with a positive attitude, is very thorough, and is quick to learn new things. 

As if that wasn’t enough proof of her work ethnic, she has been promoted to a job trainer role. This delighted Akilah, of course, but it is also beneficial for the company, as she is able to support new employees with low-levels of English, not unlike when she first arrived in Canada. 

In addition to employment, the other core component of the program are the language-learning classes, and Akilah has also done well in that respect too. In fact, she has moved up one Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) level in listening, speaking, reading and almost one (CLB) level in writing since beginning her language classes. Most students don’t move up a language level in 6-months, but Akilah’s eagerness to learn has been exceptional. 

Akilah credits her own increased English fluency to the on-site English classes and her frequent interactions with native English speakers in the workplace. 

“When I started learning English, my life got better than before because English is life,” she says excitedly. 

She also says that The Working Together Project has given her more confidence and independence in Canada. 

“when I started work, I felt like I had a life… Now I can pay for everything that I want. It’s a different life,” she explains. 

In her free time, Akilah stays busy translating for her family members. Her improved English has made her more capable to help her family with their own, which they need in order to communicate at various appointments. In the future, Akilah would like to become an interpreter and help other newcomers adjust to life in Canada.

After everything, Akilah has nothing but positive things to say about the Employment program. 

“It’s helping people to be confident to work and to learn English better than before.”