Women overcoming trauma and finding employment with DIVERSEcity’s H.E.A.L program

For many immigrant and refugee women who come to Canada, finding employment can be extremely challenging, even though they have the desire to work. They face countless barriers including no Canadian work experience, language difficulties, culture shock, and family and parenting obligations.

Now imagine a newcomer woman trying to land a job while also dealing with domestic violence or overcoming trauma. DIVERSEcity’s H.E.A.L. for Work Program was developed to empower such survivors of abuse, violence and trauma to get into the labour market.

What is H.E.A.L.?

If you have never experienced this sort of trauma, you may not understand the obstacles it can create, both physically and mentally, when it comes to advancing your life. With the H.E.A.L. (Hope. Employment. Adaptability. Learning.) for Work Program, DIVERSEcity employment specialists, in collaboration with mental health counsellors, take a trauma-informed approach as they empower women to learn new skills, gain confidence and feel safe as they look for work in Canada.

Launched last year, the women who have already participated in the H.E.A.L. program know all too well the isolation and challenges that abuse or trauma can have on an already difficult employment journey. As they moved through the program, these women showed how extremely strong and resilient they are.

Take Alia* for example. After coming here from Iraq, Alia remembers finding it very difficult to find work in Canada due in large part to the low self-esteem caused by her family’s continuous abuse. Constantly second-guessing herself and her abilities, she felt lost. After joining the H.E.A.L. program, she now has full-time employment in the retail business and is working toward her long-term career goal as an architect.

“I have more confidence in my ability to look and find work. I can take a bus on my own and not rely on my abusive brother,” Alia reports triumphantly. “H.E.A.L. helped me realize I can do anything here in Canada and my English is not bad as my family tells me. I can read, write and understand very well and just because I have an accent does not mean my English is not good.”

Geeta*, another H.E.A.L. client originally from India, endured her trauma for years. Instead of letting it hold her back, however, Geeta is focusing on how she can use her experience to heal others. “I am a sexual assault survivor and have carried that burden with me from the age of 12. H.E.A.L. really did heal me in a way that I will forever be grateful for. My employment specialist and counsellors all helped me realize I can overcome my barriers and go and fight for what I want and take care of myself. I have more confidence and with their guidance was able to find employment.”

She adds: “I now want to help people to cope with what they are going through. My goal is to work in a field where I can help people.”

Nia* spent many years in a refugee camp. Having to flee Africa, her journey to finding employment here in Canada has never been simple. She looks back at her attempt to get into the Canadian labour force and lists the many obstacles she has faced: “lack of Canadian experience, low self-esteem, no formal education and spousal abuse.”

How did working with H.E.A.L. help her? “I have more confidence in myself and I can accomplish what I want, which is to provide for my children and for them to succeed and not to be dependent on anyone but themselves,” Nia explains. “The program showed me the willpower to find work and be strong and be who I am — a powerful woman.”

Is H.E.A.L. for You?

“Finding employment and becoming financially independent can be an essential part of finding stability in Canada. You do not have to do this journey alone,” says DIVERSEcity’s Rose Weiler, manager Employment Programs at DIVERSEcity. “Having someone on your side, helping you gain the confidence, skills and courage you need to step into the labour force can make all the difference.”

If you are a survivor of violence or trauma who is looking for employment or job training and are currently a permanent resident or Canadian citizen who is employed or underemployed, H.E.A.L. may be just what you need. The program is offered in English, with language support in Punjabi and Arabic.

For more information, please call 604-597-0205, email or see

Weekly virtual information sessions are held every Tuesday if you want to learn more; email to register.

*Names changed for privacy.