A Surrey-based organization, Genesis Family Empowerment Society, was formed out of a need for mental health services for newcomers. With several years of experience working for another large non-profit organization, founder and CEO, Ershad Fawcett, worked with children who were abused and adults who suffered from grief and trauma.
While working, Fawcett found that counselling sessions offered to new refugees were limited and inadequate. Even though she asked for extensions, refugees would often need more than what was provided. Furthermore, she was frustrated there were much fewer services offered to men for particular programs, such as Stop the Violence.
“You see them struggling emotionally and they have a problem with mental health or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] specifically,” says Fawcett.
Challenges of running a specialized organization
In 2013, when the then-Conservative government announced it would cut funding to grief and trauma programs, Fawcett came up with the idea to form her own organization to work on their own terms and conditions to help clients directly.
“If you look in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, there aren’t too many agencies focused only on mental health services, specifically for grief, trauma and PTSD,” she says.
Volunteers at the society are trained professionals. Most of the counsellors are students from master’s programs in counselling psychology who are near degree completion. Because most of the clients speak Arabic, there are three counsellors, including Fawcett, in her organization who speak that language. Fawcett likes to provide counselling in the client’s first language because it tends to be more effective.
“Definitely I need counsellors who speak Arabic so we can meet the demand. The problem is there aren’t too many Arabic-speaking counsellors who are trained or have the appropriate credentials,” Fawcett explains.
In addition, Fawcett says immigrants from the Middle East region lack trust in each other and in their communities and that mistrust carries over into counselling service offerings. For example, even though there may be nothing wrong with the interpreter’s skills, they may not trust the interpreter will translate everything they are saying. She notes the religious and political situation in that region heightens this mistrust. This mistrust is disconcerting for Fawcett, who, being from Sudan, hopes she can provide an impartial service for those seeking counselling help.
A pressing concern
Even though some of the Syrian refugees in Canada arrived in December, some are just now starting to settle down. But it is hard to say how much therapy each refugee needs as each person presents their problems differently: some are highly resilient, some use coping strategies or mechanisms and some don’t.
“They are just stuck. And they’re highly traumatized. If somebody is highly traumatized, they will need at least six or eight months. I worked with somebody over a year (once a week, one hour a session),” says Fawcett.
Genesis will be open for-two and-half days for about eight to 10-hour days just to meet the demand. Fawcett recently started seeing Syrian refugees who arrived in December, which she expected because it will take them about three months before they realize they need help.
Furthermore, she wants to note that Genesis provides counselling to all ethnicities.
“It just happens I’m the only registered clinical counsellor who offers services in Arabic. That’s why I became a magnet for refugees or newcomers that speak Arabic. In the past, I have provided counselling to refugees from 11 different countries over the last 10 years,” she says.