Every newcomer to Canada has a unique story. But they all share similar goals. They come to Canada to build new lives. Less then two years ago, Shabana Ansari arrived in Ottawa with her husband and son. They were excited about their future but also a little anxious. Would Ottawa be everything they had hoped for?
As they settled into their new lives, Shabana volunteered with the communications department at CCI Ottawa. Eventually, she landed that coveted job with another organization, World Skills, that works with newcomers. Then, with a partner, she started her own publishing house, Peacock Press.
Recently, she shared with us some of her experiences as a newcomer in Ottawa.
Q. Moving to a new country took some adjustment. How are you feeling about life in Ottawa now?
A. Around this time last year, I was seeking a job and wondering why no one wanted to hire me even though I had the qualifications and the work experience. Now that I have a job, I am able to look at the situation more objectively – building a professional network from scratch is time-consuming and, very often, it is about being in the right place at the right time. And even though it was a long and slow process of having to prove myself once again and starting over in a new country, I am where I am today thanks to the kindness of strangers. Ottawa is full of amazing people who are willing to give their time and energy to help newcomers find their feet in the capital.
Q. If you could go back in time, is there any advice you would give to yourself when you first arrived in Ottawa?
A. You may be the perfect, well-prepared candidate, but the job search process takes time. And, there are several external factors that are contributing to your current situation (being jobless and unable to convince employers to take a chance on you). So, try to control whatever aspects of the job search you can and make peace with what you can’t!
Q. You started working at World Skills in 2019. (World Skills is a non-profit employment centre dedicated to the employment needs of newcomers). Describe your latest role.
A. I am currently working as a Recruitment Specialist with the Federal Internship for Newcomers (FIN) Program at World Skills. My responsibilities include collaborating with employers in the public and private sectors who are interested in hiring internationally trained professionals. I also coordinate job referral and matching between employers and eligible candidates along with organizing workshops and networking events for FIN eligible newcomers.
Q. As a newcomer who helps other newcomers find meaningful employment, what is the first piece of advice you have for newcomers?
A. While it may take some time to land a job – and there will be many rejections along the way – this is just a temporary phase. Your dream job is just around the corner!
Q. Earlier this year, you started a new publishing company (Peacock Press) that focuses on voices we often don’t hear from. Why is this important to you?
A. Most of the books being sold today are written by, and for, a single primary group. And traditional publishers continue to focus only on similar voices and stories while excluding the rest of us. Almost everyone I talk to agrees that the world needs widely published diverse books so that anyone, from any group, can see themselves represented in them. The only way to make sure that this happens is to provide a platform for all people, irrespective of who they are, to tell their stories. And that is the reason why the work we are doing through Peacock Press is important – to make sure that the publishing industry is held accountable for focusing on the stories of only one segment and ignoring everyone else.
Q. How is Peacock Press doing and have there been any surprises for you in starting a new business?
A. We are pleasantly surprised by the positive response that our first collection of poetry, Because I Can written by Hanieh Khoshkhou, has been receiving. At book fairs, literary events and public readings, people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and sexual orientation approach us to talk about how much they love the book and the work we’re doing. We are very touched by this kind of love and support from our readers.
Q. You’ve written about ways to promote diverse voices through literature. Can you highlight some of them for our audiences?
A. As parents, teachers, publishers, retailers, or avid readers, we have a collective responsibility to make sure that no voice remains unheard. Here are some ways in which we can all play a role in promoting diverse authors and books:
- Introduce children to literary characters that don’t look like them or have similar life experiences.
- Invite diverse authors for book readings and events at schools and libraries so that students can appreciate that writers come from all ages, abilities, backgrounds, cultures, genders, races, religions, sexual orientation etc.
- Read, review and promote books by diverse authors on social media. Word-of-mouth publicity is the best way to shine a light on a new writer, book, or publishing company that is striving to offer a platform to emerging voices.
- Hire a diverse workforce at publishing and distribution companies to understand different perspectives, market needs and the pulse of the audience. Also, promote and market diverse books not only to a certain segment of readers but to everyone who loves to read.
- Display books by diverse authors prominently in bookstores and libraries and have book readings and events to showcase different authors and increase readership of their books.
Q. There are probably a few aspiring authors out there who think they might be a fit for Peacock. What’s the best way to get the attention of Peacock Press?
A. There are a LOT of aspiring writers out there who are a great fit for Peacock Press, and they have been reaching out to us on social media and at literary events. The response is both heartening and overwhelming. We hope we will be able to work with at least some of them over the next year or so. Right now we continue to face numerous challenges as an independent publisher of diverse books – distribution companies refuse to work with us because we aren’t “big enough” (yet!), bookstores and libraries show no interest in stocking our book because it’s not a “bestseller” (so far!), and vendors are unwilling to purchase from us because we are not part of their traditional distribution and sales channels. While these are not issues that can be fixed overnight, we are confident that very soon our efforts will create a more inclusive publishing industry where no stories or voices will go unheard.