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After seeing local need, Canadian Arab Women Association expands to Guelph

The group has been helping Arab women in the tricity area for five years. Now they're looking for an office in Guelph

In 2016, Asma Alwahsh started a community group for Arab women to get together, spend time and share resources in Waterloo. Five years later, the group is now a registered not for profit organization helping over 1,500 women in the region.

Now the group has officially expanded services to help Arab women in Guelph. 

Whether it is settlement organizations, volunteer services, educational programs, conversation circles, computer classes or just offering a helping hand, the Canadian Arab Women Association (CAWA) aims to connect, help, and ultimately empower local Arab women. 

Alwashsh said the organization is expanding in Guelph with the help of recent funding from Women and Gender Equality Canada and has already begun its outreach. The funding has also enabled the organization to hire two outreach workers that will work with Arab women and their families to connect them with resources.

It also hopes to find office space in Guelph soon. The organization currently has an office in Cambridge and Kitchener. 

“Before COVID, many women from Guelph came to our social events and they were asking when we can open something in Guelph and now luckily, funding will enable us to expand and help and support and empower women in Guelph,” said CAWA’s founder, Alwahsh.

“Through this program, we will be able to, to work with the Arab woman on resume writing, cover letters, interviews, and some of like the Canadian work culture and tips and tricks how to get the Canadian experience and I can say this is the only program in Waterloo Region and in Guelph, that is providing the this is skills only in Arabic,”

She said any Arab woman regardless of her status or religion is welcome to join the group. 

“Our mission is to connect and support and empower women by connecting them with resources providing them with programs, engaging them in our community to enable them to make a positive impact in their lives, and the lives of their families, and their community at large,” said Alwahsh. 

She said when she first launched as a community group in 2016, she heard many stories about women who lived in Canada for decades but struggled to engage with the community because they didn’t have the right connections or didn’t have friends or family members to guide them. 

“I started with this idea of the socializing aspect, just going out, getting to know each other, because sometimes you are more comfortable to ask somebody from your own culture, your own land. people using your own language,” said Alwahsh. 

“That was the basic idea of CAWA.” 

Alwahsh said soon after, the organization began to see the needs of the Arab community.

Alwahsh said when she first started, everyone was volunteers, and now the group has grown into an 11 staff organization which began last September.

“Last September, we had like two people and then in January we had like two people. And then in July, we started the hiring process. So now in December we have almost 11 staff members,” said Alwahsh. 

Programs in the organization, like Strong Families Together, discuss topics such as parenting and family law in Canada so newcomers can navigate the different parenting experience in Canada. 

“We were able to hire an art therapist and a parenting counselor to help women navigate a system on how to parent in a different culture,” adding that the group also connects the women in the tricity area through Whatsapp groups. 

Their private Facebook group has nearly 1,500 members that connects women with resources and aims to serve as a safe space for women to ask questions.