Nasra Hussein is rooted to her community, and it shows.
As the health equity lead at the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, (GNSC) Hussein works to make neighbourhood programs and practices equitable and have spaces where ‘everyone feels at home.'
“I have drive and a passion to help create more inclusive, engaging and welcoming spaces where people from all walks of life can come to a neighbourhood, feel welcome, and have a sense of belonging,” Hussein said.
“That’s so important for wellbeing and health.”
The GNSC is committed to creating and fostering safe, inclusive spaces in communities across the city.
The organization supports a network of 15 neighbourhood groups, sponsoring agencies and program partners. Each neighbourhood group operates at the grass roots level, to meet the needs of children, youth and families.
As health equity lead, Hussein works with staff, volunteers, local leaders, and the community to champion and advocate for equity and inclusion.
“I really want to do something that is very grassroots ‘with’ the community, versus ‘for’ the community. I’ve always wanted to take a more compassionate approach with the work that I do,” Hussein said.
Hussein holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Public Health from the University of Guelph and has experience working in community engagement and participatory action research in Guelph, Ottawa and Africa.
“I came back from Africa after graduating from my master’s in March 2020. It was a confusing time with a lot of uncertainty. I had to figure out my next steps in life. And I decided to work at local non-profits that resonate with my values in empowering communities and working towards making collaborative solutions,” Hussein said.
Hussein has worked in Ottawa as a health researcher and with the City of Guelph in developing an anti-racism plan.
And then a new opportunity came knocking from the management at the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition.
“They reached out to me asking if I was interested. I felt like it was the right time for me. And here we are, almost two years later,” Hussein said.
Hussein began her new role in the middle of the pandemic, in July 2021.
Raised in Guelph, Hussein credits her drive to influence systemic change to her lived experience as a Black woman and daughter of Somali-Muslim immigrants, who has witnessed and experienced marginalization firsthand.
“I moved to Guelph from Toronto, 27 years ago, when I was just three. My parents had to overcome many obstacles when moving away from immediate family. I’ve always been conscious of the fact that there are so many marginalized groups facing the same barriers such as language, finding employment, a safe working environment, and access to family supports,” Hussein said.
"I grew up in a low-income neighbourhood here in Guelph, so I too, have witnessed barriers. I experienced them myself in being a Black Muslim woman. It’s been hard at times to navigate some spaces and have my voice even heard and taken seriously. I think that is the driving force to doing this work because I understand it from a lived reality, and I have experienced it myself."
The goal of the GNSC is to amplify the voices of each neighbourhood group and bring them together as a collective voice for positive change.
“I think by connecting with community and working collaboratively representing multiple voices, this represents our front-line staff, and community members who access our services. That’s integral to engage with community members and have their voices represented,” Hussein said.
Hussein says she has also been exploring with other means of expression, by moving towards more creative avenues of communication, such as the arts.
“We have a digital story-telling series that highlights some of the community voices that have had impact. We also have a community mural in the works with eight of the 15 neighbourhood groups included,” Hussein said.
Through her work, Hussein continues to celebrate Guelph’s rich diversity and vibrant neighbourhoods.
“Guelph represents who I am no matter where I am living. I will always come back to Guelph because there is just this close-knit community and there are people here who are passionate about making transformational change in the community and building a sense of belonging and connection,” Hussein said.
“I am so excited about the future of the coalition."
But Hussein says, there is still much work that needs to be done.
“Over the last few years, since the pandemic, we’ve seen so many people lose that social connection, with a dramatic and negative impact on their wellbeing,” Hussein said.
“But I find that Guelph is resilient and there is access to community resources for anyone who is struggling. I love what this community has become. No matter where you are at, you feel a sense of belonging.”
For more information about GNSC, visit here.