Aishwariya Menon: Program facilitator, Street Haven at the Crossroads learning centre

"George Brown gave me the practical experience. My professors were incredible women who've done great work in the community."

I run workshops and manage volunteers at Street Haven, an organization that offers services to women in need. 

As part of our literacy and basic skills program, we encounter women who are trying to learn math and English. Part of my job is to pair tutors with learners who come to our centre. The tutorial can either be one-on-one or in small groups. We also have a classroom run by a literacy skills teacher.

In addition to the literacy and basic skills program, we have a pre-employment program in which I run workshops on employability skills, self-care and self-advocacy. The learners who come to us – both immigrants and Canadians – share a history of interrupted education. They were pulled out of school for various reasons, such as family changes or moves. 

Or they may have been discouraged from pursuing education because someone told them they have a learning disability and won’t be able to learn. They’re very brave to try again and trust that we can help.

Initially I studied political science at McMaster University. Then I did my master’s in women’s studies in India at Tata Institute of Social Sciences In Mumbai. While I was on vacation in India, my aunt told me this well-known university had just started a master’s program in women studies. I’m interested in the feminist movement in India – my background is Indian but I’d never lived there – and I wanted to see if there were parallels with the feminist movement in North America.

I spent two years there. When I came back, I realized I didn’t want to do anything theoretical or research-based. I wanted more practical experience, so I entered the assaulted women and children’s counsellor/advocate program at George Brown

Street Haven works specifically with women, and my master’s definitely prepared me in terms of knowing feminist theory. Then George Brown gave me the practical experience. My professors were incredible women who’ve done so much work in the community. Their experiences led me to what we studied and what I would eventually do, and they were a huge source of inspiration. 

The program focused on counselling, but also on advocating for women. India and Canada are extremely different, so I had to learn about policies and bureaucracy specific to Toronto and the approach to counselling. On my job now, I do very informal counselling on a daily basis. The women who come in trust us with their stories, and it’s up to us to determine how to support them. 

I wanted to go this route because I’d volunteered at a sexual assault centre in Hamilton while at McMaster. Seeing the work that women were doing there and getting training in crisis counselling really opened my eyes to the ways the law works. That’s a big part of why I am where I am right now. 

Women from all walks of life come to our centre. I love listening to people’s histories you learn from them all. It’s amazing to meet women who were engineers in China who are trying to work their way through the Canadian system. I learn from them that resiliency never dies. It’s a cliché, but they are incredibly strong. A lot of women living in shelters have so much determination. It’s incredible to see that every day.

But the field is tough to get into because it’s funded by the government, which has made many cuts to social services, so not many jobs are posted. Volunteer as much as you can and make connections. I was a volunteer at Street Haven and now have a job I really love. It was a long, tough process, but I got to where I wanted to be.

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